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LSU remains a mystery thanks to Saturday's weather cancellation

Les Miles and the Tigers open their season on the road against SEC rival Mississippi State on Saturday. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

BATON ROUGE, La. – If nothing else, LSU will have the element of surprise in its favor when it travels to face Mississippi State on Saturday.

In this case, though, that might not be such an advantage.

Sure, Dan Mullen and his Mississippi State coaching staff have only eight plays to evaluate on film, which won’t provide much insight into LSU’s 2015 scheme and personnel trends. But the second edge to that sword is that the Tigers would have benefited greatly from playing ahead of their SEC opener, and the nasty weather that wiped out Saturday’s contest with McNeese State robbed them of that luxury.

“We would liked to have prepared best for Mississippi State having had a first game under our belt before we played them,” LSU coach Les Miles said after calling the game following four hours of rain and repeated lightning strikes around Tiger Stadium. “That’s why we waited as long as we could.”

The Tigers played just two scoreless series -- a shaky five-play possession on offense and a three-and-out on defense -- before the storm produced the first game cancellation in the modern era of LSU football. Now the Tigers will enter a crucial stretch of the schedule, facing Mississippi State and Auburn -- opponents that combined for 1,136 yards of total offense against John Chavis’ LSU defense last fall -- with barely any game reps under their belts.

Last season’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State, in fact, was statistically the worst performance by an LSU defense in the 10 years that Miles had been the Tigers’ coach. And the 41-7 Auburn loss was just as bad from the offense’s perspective, with the Tigers failing to convert a single third down in quarterback Brandon Harris’ lone career start.

That’s why these first two conference games have been front-and-center in the Tigers’ thoughts all offseason.

“Definitely, I know it’s in the back of my mind that it was Mississippi State and Auburn that beat us last year,” LSU receiver Malachi Dupre said last week ahead of the McNeese game.

“I know it’s on the back of my mind, but at the same time you can’t look too far into it and say, ‘They beat us last year,’ because if we do what we’re supposed to do, then hopefully there will be a different outcome this year.”

Playing McNeese, even if only for a half or so before the reserves took the field in what likely would have been a comfortable win over an FCS opponent, might have better prepared LSU to change those outcomes.

Most importantly, with Harris having wrestled the starting quarterback job back from Anthony Jennings, and with numerous true freshmen preparing to contribute on offense, it would have been helpful for those players to work together in a game before traveling to the land of the cowbell.

Mississippi State’s fans and their infamous noisemakers aren’t going to cut the Tigers any slack just because they didn’t get to play their opener. Quite the opposite. Make no mistake, the youngsters missing those game reps is going to create a major challenge for LSU.

However, Miles tried to find the silver lining in Saturday’s stormy weather. The players will be fresher without the physical strain of a game, and the Tigers didn’t suffer any new injuries. Miles’ coaching staff will also have the benefit of watching film of the Bulldogs sputtering through much of Saturday night’s 34-16 win over Southern Miss without truly having to return the favor to Mullen’s staff.

State had still better send the full game tape when the programs exchange video, Miles said, and not just the equivalent eight plays from scrimmage.

“That’d be cheating if they did that,” he joked. “We’re going to give them the whole game, intercut.”

On paper, this matchup still favors Miles’ Tigers. ESPN’s Stats & Information group gives LSU an 80 percent chance of winning and predicts a 12.1-point scoring differential on Saturday.

In reality, we can only speculate on how an LSU team with a new defensive coordinator, new quarterback and new players inserted at several key positions will function under the lights at Davis Wade Stadium.

If Mother Nature had been more cooperative, the McNeese game would have provided insight into LSU’s capabilities and shortcomings. In the absence of such visible evidence, nobody knows what the Tigers will look like -- nor whether that’s a good or a bad thing for LSU.