NoleGameday

Game Preview: Florida State vs. Ole Miss

Ole Miss Bio Flash:

Head Coach: Hugh Freeze

2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2 in SEC

Key Players: QB Chad Kelly, WR Quincy Adeboyejo, RB Akeem Judd, CB Tony Bridges, DE Marquis Haynes

Game Introduction:

The opening weekend of college football is finally here and they may have saved the best game for last. Both Florida State and Ole Miss will travel south to Orlando to square off in a top-15 battle Monday night. After overachieving in a rebuilding year in 2015, the Seminoles look to make a run as national title contenders. Ole Miss should be in the thick of the 2016 national title race too, if they can survive one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Rebels come into this game ranked 11th, and the ‘Noles sit at 4th. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) Florida State has a 70.5% chance to win. The game kicks off at 8:00 PM on ESPN.

Headlines:

Deondre Francois to make first collegiate start for the ‘Noles

After Sean Maguire suffered an injury to his foot, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois was inevitably named the starting quarterback. A former four-star recruit out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Francois has a lot of hype surrounding him. Most notably former ‘Nole and Jacksonville Jaguar first round pick Jalen Ramsey had this to say of Francois: “I’ll put it this way, I would have been comfortable with him leading us last year.” Even FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher has uncharacteristically praised Francois heavily this offseason. There is good reason to believe the hype too, as Francois had a pretty good game going 20-33 for 246 yards and two scores. He did however throw two interceptions, including one in the redzone. This could be something to keep an eye on, and of course rival fanbases have already concluded that Franois is “turnover prone”. Here’s the good news: Francois will be surrounded by 10 returning starters on offense, including a guy named Dalvin Cook and 100% of the receiving production from 2015. He’s not Jameis Winston, and he will make mistakes. But the potential is there, and only time will tell if Francois can live up to the hype.

Dalvin Cook looks to begin building Heisman Résumé

 After a monstrous 2015 season on practically one leg, Dalvin Cook is now healthy and ready to prove why he’s one of the best players in the country. He has become famous for his explosiveness and home run threat ability. Cook has a unique blend of speed and power, and is the best running back Florida State’s ever had. Ole Miss will try their best to at least slow him down, but Cook should tear off a few big runs. Expect Cook to get around 20-25 touches through both the ground and the air. Pay close attention to his average yards per carry, as he averaged 7.4 yards per attempt last year. This led all power-5 running backs with at least 200 carries. Monday should be another big night for Cook, as he looks to not only build his Heisman case but also cement his legacy as an all-time Florida State great.

Ole Miss and Chad Kelly are familiar with the underdog role

In 2014 the Rebels hosted then #3 ranked Alabama and shocked the Crimson Tide with a 23-17 win. That year, they were led by a good defense and senior quarterback Bo Wallace. The following year, Ole Miss came into Tuscaloosa and the Crimson Tide had revenge on their mind. But yet again, the Rebels defied the odds and came up with a wild 43-37 shootout win. Chad Kelly had a great game, and he should be full of confidence Monday night. He and Ole Miss knows very well FSU is favored, but that means absolutely nothing to them. They will come out on to the field with just as much energy as the ‘Noles. Chad Kelly will hope he can have another big night, and maybe get some luck too:

 

Ole Miss to start a true freshman at left tackle

Although you wouldn’t know Greg Little is a true freshman at first glance. He’s a consensus five-star recruit out of Allen, Texas and measures in at 6’5.5 and 305 pounds. He was the number one rated offensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting cycle. He will have a very tough task in his first start for the Rebels. FSU veteran and returning sack leader DeMarcus Walker typically lines up in that right defensive end spot, across from the left tackle. On the other side, sophomore Josh Sweat looks to build on the tremendous freshman campaign he had a year ago. Sweat was never at 100% last year as he was rehabbing an ACL tear he suffered while still in high school. After a whole offseason to heal up his leg, Sweat should look forward to terrorizing offenses. Greg Little is going to have his hands full whoever lines up across him, and expect FSU to bring extra pressure on that Ole Miss left side.

Burning Questions:

Will weather be a factor?

Hurricane Hermine may have moved past Florida but the effects are certainly still being felt. While the hurricane itself won’t directly effect the game Monday night, it could dissuade those who were hit hard by Hermine from making the trip to Orlando. Even some Ole Miss faithful may think twice about heading south with heavy traffic expected in North Florida over the next couple of days. So while Hurricane Hermine won’t have a definitive impact on the game, it might affect a few individuals’ travel plans. Aside from Hurricane Hermine, weather forecasts show there’s a good chance of rain Monday afternoon. This could make for a wet field, which favors the run game. Florida State has a better run game then Ole Miss, so if the field conditions are wet this could give the ‘Noles a subtle edge.

Can Florida State fix their 2015 red zone struggles?

The ‘Noles looked lost at times last year inside the 20. They didn’t have a reliable big receiver to target on fade routes , and they lacked a power running back able to churn out a couple yards near the goal line. Far too often, FSU settled for field goals in the red zone. The ‘Noles look to have better red zone efficiency this year, and two players will play a key role in doing so: wide receiver Auden Tate and running back Jacques Patrick. Auden Tate is 6’5, and meets the criteria of a tall receiver that so many FSU fans have been craving since first round pick Kelvin Benjamin’s departure in 2013. Tate was a favorite target of Francois’ in the spring game, as the pair connected 6 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. Expect coach Fisher to dial up the fade route to Tate when the ‘Noles get down in the red zone. Another player looking to fix FSU’s 2015 red zone woes is Jacques Patrick. As a true freshman last year, Patrick filled in for Dalvin Cook nicely earning 314 yards on 63 carries and five touchdowns. The biggest complaint with Patrick was that he didn’t run like the power back the coaching staff wants him to be. Instead of lowering his pads and taking defenders head on, he ran too vertical and tried to finesse his way out of tackles. After a whole offseason of coaching and work, Patrick hopes he can become a reliable power runner. And at 6’2 and 231 lbs., Patrick is not a fun guy to tackle for anyone. Tate and Patrick won’t be the only two FSU targets in the red zone, but the coaches certainly hope they can reach their potential. Tate certainly hopes he can make more plays like this one:

Can Ole Miss replace Laquon Treadwell’s productivity?

Stud wide out Laquon Treadwell departed Ole Miss for the NFL draft after a great career with the Rebels. Last year, he led all Ole Miss receivers with 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next best receiver was Cody Core, who had 37 catches for 644 yards and four touchdowns. Not far behind Core was Quincy Adeboyejo, who had 38 catches for 604 yards but snagged seven touchdowns. Another weapon Chad Kelly has to play with is tight end Evan Engram, who earned second team all-SEC honors this preseason. The Rebels are going to need one or all of these players to step up if they want to have an effective passing game in 2016. There’s no easy way to replace Laquon Treadwell, but Ole Miss will need to find a go-to receiver fast. Otherwise, Derwin James and the Florida State secondary will shutdown the Rebels’ air attack.

What can we expect from Deondre Francois?

The biggest question for Florida State this offseason was “who’s going to start at quarterback?” Now that question is answered, and Francois takes the reigns at quarterback as a little bit of a mystery. We know he’s the best dual-threat coach Fisher has had at FSU, and we know he has a big arm. From what Francois showed in the spring game, it appears coach Fisher wants to move the pocket a lot. I expect a lot of play action roll outs, with easy two progression reads. If the pass is covered, I expect Francois to tuck it and run. He showed off his athleticism and speed a few times in the spring game, and he won’t be afraid to use his legs to move the chains. I also expect coach Fisher to call a similar game to that of Jameis Winston’s first start. If you recall, the run game was supposed to be the ‘Noles strength in 2013, with a backfield consisting of Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr., and Karlos Williams. However, FSU came out slinging and caught the Pittsburgh defense by surprise. I think coach Fisher will dial up the pass early, and make the Ole Miss defense respect the pass before pounding the rock with Dalvin Cook.

Forecast:

The Rebels certainly make a strong case to be picked for this game. They have one of the best returning quarterbacks in the SEC, and return 12 total starters on both offense and defense. However, Florida State returns 17 total starters on both sides of the ball. Ole Miss is breaking in three new starters  on the offensive line, including two on the right side. FSU defensive ends Josh Sweat and DeMarcus Walker should provide plenty of pressure to make Chad Kelly uncomfortable in the pocket. I expect ‘Noles defensive coordinator Charles Kelly to dial up the blitz early and often, and utilize safety Derwin James’ unique skill set on pass rushes. I think Ole Miss’ offensive line will be overwhelmed by FSU’s relentless pressure up front. This doesn’t mean I don’t think Chad Kelly and the Rebels’ offense will be completely thwarted, as they are definitely going to put some points on the board. On the flip side of the ball, Dalvin Cook will be the catalyst (obviously) for this Florida State offense. The Ole Miss defense will be keying in on him early, and because of this Cook will step into a new pivotal role: Decoy. Expect a lot of play action from the ‘Noles, and as I mentioned earlier a lot of play action roll outs to move the pocket for Francois. Expect coach Fisher to unveil some new plays, including the jet sweep. Using wide receivers as ball carriers on the edges will force the Ole Miss defensive ends to line up more outside the offensive tackles, meaning Dalvin Cook will have more room on the inside. If Florida State can effectively gain yards on the jet sweep, Ole Miss will have no choice but to defend the outer edges. This not only provides more space inside, but also makes it easier for the offensive line to open holes because of the defensive alignment of the defense. Coach Fisher will do everything he can to give Dalvin Cook the ball in space, and in the end, I think it will be enough. I’ll take FSU 28-24 over the Rebels, in a very close game. I think the ‘Noles will take a small lead into the half, and in the second half focus on milking the clock and keeping possession. Ultimately, I think Florida State’s defense will create a couple turnovers and frustrate the Rebels’ offensive line. While I could easily see this game going either way, FSU simply has more returning talent and depth. It should be a fun night in Orlando, and certainly a fantastic conclusion to the opening weekend of college football.

Ben Brewton

Writer at Nole Gameday covering football and basketball. FSU alum. Follow me on twitter (@Ben_Brewton) and we can talk sports. On the 8th day, God created college football.



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