Rabalais: ‘No contest’ raises stakes for LSU game at Mississippi State _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- From left, LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, running back Leonard Fournette and center William Clapp got precious few snaps Saturday against McNeese State before lightning nixed the season opener at Tiger Stadium.

The LSU-McNeese State game became a vapor Saturday night. A nothing, a no contest, a never was thanks to Saturday night’s lightning show that canceled the football show scheduled in Tiger Stadium.

But even though it has been erased, all single game (and season win total) bets off, all stats reset to zero, that doesn’t mean the stakes for the Tigers aren’t being raised this week.

In golf, it’s called a skins game. There’s a bet on each hole, a monetary value, say $100. If no one wins the first hole, the bet is carried over to the second hole, making it worth $200.

Well, thanks to last Saturday’s wipeout, the skins on this Saturday’s LSU game at Mississippi State just got doubled. And then some.

There was promise in the plays LSU got to run against McNeese. There were a couple of passes, a jet sweep run by talented freshman cornerback Donte Jackson, and quarterback pressure ratcheted up by new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

But LSU’s offense, with sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris at the controls, got to run only five plays. He needed more work, a lot more work; but in a flash, the chance for that was gone. So in effect, Harris will make what is realistically his second career start on the road in Starkville, Mississippi.

For LSU, the memory of his first start at Auburn last year isn’t a comforting thought.

This was always going to be a big game for the Tigers as they try to better last year’s 8-5 record.

Now, with a home game next week against Auburn looming, this becomes an even bigger road test.

It’s this simple: If Harris can execute the offense, if LSU’s defense doesn’t let State quarterback Dak Prescott go off, this is the Tigers’ game to win. Even after LSU’s aborted liftoff and State’s 34-16 win at downtrodden Southern Miss, the Tigers still go to Starkville a 3-point favorite. A win there, and LSU probably comes home favored to beat Auburn.

But the possibilities are two sides of a thin coin, and on the other side is a potentially disastrous 0-2 start.

One last word for LSU (and McNeese State fans) upset about Saturday’s game being canceled:

Assuming LSU refunds ticket money to fans (a plan could be announced as early as Tuesday), there is no advantage, zero, to not playing this game. Not from a competitive standpoint and not from a financial standpoint, either. LSU stands to lose millions.

It’s frustrating and hugely disappointing from many points of view that the game barely started. The atmosphere on campus, both from the anticipation of simply seeing Harris start and a sizeable crowd that showed up, was tremendous. But it just couldn’t be pulled off by the rules (30-minute delay for lightning within eight miles) in place. Even after the decision was made not to play, there was a lightning strike at 11:45 p.m., too close to the SEC’s midnight deadline to finish.

Play on Sunday? Not logistically possible because the stadium couldn’t be made ready for fans. Play without fans? No one wanted to do that. Play in the indoor facility? Come on. And no, you can’t just pick up and move the game to the Superdome or McNeese’s Cowboy Stadium at the spur of the moment, either.

I’ve been covering LSU football for going on 30 years and watching it longer than that, and I can never recall a lightning strike on a stadium in a game, even during a deluge like the 1988 Miami game. The only thing like that I’ve even read about was lightning striking Alex Box Stadium when the football team was practicing there before the 1958 season. (Looking for an omen?)

Unfortunately, sometimes bad and/or disappointing things happen, and we just have to deal with them. Hopefully for LSU and McNeese, lightning doesn’t strike twice any time soon.

There are worse things than to have a game canceled. You could, like so many college football teams on the first weekend, lose a key player in a game that could have been won by playing backups.

BYU and Kansas State lost their starting quarterbacks for the season, Taysom Hill (broken foot) and Jesse Ertz (knee).

Notre Dame lost its leading rusher from last season, Tarean Folston (ACL).

Clemson’s best wide receiver, preseason All-ACC pick Mike Williams, collided with a goal post on a diving touchdown catch and broke his neck, likely gone for the year.

UCLA star defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes tore a knee ligament.

LSU safety Jalen Mills was already on the sidelines on crutches Saturday with an ankle injury that could keep him out half the season.

Hypotheticals offer little consolation, but at least for LSU’s sake, no Tigers joined him.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.