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Chad Kelly, Deondre Francois, and the Agony and Ecstasy of Playing College Quarterback

Ole Miss and FSU’s main men had very different opening nights

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Getty Images

Monday night’s game between Florida State and Ole Miss was supposed to be many things:

  • The headliner of an opening weekend of NCAA football that was touted as the best ever, of all time (it wasn’t, but it was close).
  • The beginning of a season-long tryout by the Rebels to prove they could contend with the nation’s best. This was going to be an especially difficult feat after losing three huge talents in Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, and Laremy Tunsil.
  • An ACC–SEC clash that would lead to a balanced, cogent, well-reasoned conversation about the finer differences in conference strength.

This was also to be the first date on the final North American run of former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly’s Redemption Tour. With a victory over a no. 4–ranked Seminoles team, he could open his campaign for a college-career-capping Heisman Trophy. His counterpart, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, would be playing his first ever regular-season game for Florida State.

When it was all said and done, Florida State squeezed out a 45–34 win. But what happened to Kelly’s and Francois’s stock?

Chad Kelly: Down

People on the internet refer to Chad Kelly as “Swag Kelly,” but if we can assume that teammates opt for single syllable nicknames for the sake of ease and simplicity, can we assume that they just call him “Swag”? Like, Chad Kelly walks into a film session, What up, Swag? Chad Kelly walks off the field after a few reps during a full-pads practice, Good stuff, Swag! Chad Kelly pitches his practice pinnie in the laundry hamper, Swag, you tryna go Einstein Bros? I know it’s like, 3 p.m., but man, I just really want a sausage, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel.

It’s a ridiculous thing to think about, but Swag Kelly does ridiculous things, like look past a WIDE OPEN receiver to throw to a 21-yard pass to Evan Engram in double coverage for his third passing touchdown of the first half.

On the other hand, there was also that nine-play, 75-yard drive he finished off in the second quarter with a shallow three-yard lob to D.K. Metcalf that definitely shouldn’t have worked, but did.

The Rebels absolutely smashed the Seminoles in the opening 27 minutes of the game, and Kelly’s three touchdown passes were tied with the most FSU has given up in the any half against any team in the past 10 seasons.

But the tide turned dramatically after the start of the second half with Florida State scoring 26 unanswered points out of the gate. And after Kelly fumbled with 10:47 left in the third, he didn’t seem to get back into the swing of things until he hit Van Jefferson with a 20-yard strike in the fourth quarter. And by “couldn’t get back into the swing of things” I mean, “Ole Miss was outgained 209 yards to negative-7 in the third.” Kelly finished the game with 21 completions on 39 attempts for 313 yards and four touchdowns, but he also gave away three interceptions and a fumble, which won’t do much to quiet critics who question his proclivity for turning the ball over.

There could very well be a more subdued, less infuriating version of Swag Kelly — perhaps one that’s just called “Chad” — that runs lower risk plays. Maybe “Chad” keeps the opposing defense on the field longer and chooses to hand the ball off instead of going all verts, all the time. But Swag can’t be “Chad” in this iteration of Ole Miss. Not under Hugh Freeze. And not with this ground game (or lack thereof).

Deondre Francois: Way Up

The Seminoles scored their first touchdown at the very end of the second quarter when Francois stood up in the hole and followed through on a 16-yard dart to wide receiver Travis Rudolph. In the process, the freshman got mollywhopped by Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes. Francois looked completely out of it, and needed to be pointed in the direction of the locker room. But whatever cobwebs he had were cleared when the Seminoles retook the field.

After trailing 28–13 at the half, Francois propelled Florida State to a 29–28 lead with more than nine minutes left in the third. A short two-yarder to tight end Ryan Izzo and another conversion from kicker Ricky Aguayo brought it to 30 points in just 11:16 of game time.

Francois — the lone question mark in a Florida State offense with 10 returning starters — finished with 419 yards and two touchdowns on 33 completions. That’s one hell of a coming out party for a redshirt freshman, in a weekend full of QB coming out parties for the likes of Shane Buechele, Jacob Eason, Lamar Jackson, and DeShone Kizer. Francois was maybe the most impressive, when you consider he was behind a porous offensive line.

Maybe that comes as a consequence of Jameis Winston dropping sapient jewels of wisdom on the sideline.

You know the saying: Behind every great college quarterback, there’s a former great college quarterback squinting at a confounding thing in the middle distance.