BATON ROUGE, La. -- Manny Diaz didn't show much in his first game back at Mississippi State, but at least his team played.
Since LSU's opener against McNeese State lasted only five minutes before repeated lightning strikes forced its cancellation, Mississippi State's coaching staff must rely largely on conjecture as it plans for Saturday night's meeting with the Tigers and their new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele.
"You are going through last year's films to watch personnel. You are going through Alabama's stuff to look at more scheme of where they came from. You can peek at USC stuff with Ed Orgeron as the defensive line coach," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said, referring to the previous coaching stops for Steele and LSU's new defensive line coach, Orgeron.
"You are not real sure what they are going to draw from it schematically, and then personnel, you're watching the players play, but you do not know how they are going to do something in a different scheme. On that aspect of us on the offensive side of the ball, it is really hard to prepare for."
LSU has it slightly better while preparing for Diaz, who returned to Mississippi State this season after stints at Texas and Louisiana Tech. Diaz became a hot name in the coaching ranks in his previous season as a coordinator under Mullen, 2010, before jumping to Texas the next year.
Diaz's trademarks were his aggressiveness and exotic blitz packages during his first season in Starkville, but those traits was largely absent from last Saturday's 34-16 win over Southern Miss. With a defense that must replace eight starters from last season, and which was without injured starting cornerback Taveze Calhoun, Diaz played mostly soft coverages and USM was able to take advantage.
Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens passed for 311 yards and the Golden Eagles kept the score closer than the Bulldogs might have liked, but another key trait of Diaz defenses also helped make a difference in the outcome.
State's defense picked off two Mullens passes -- one by Richie Brown and one by Will Redmond -- continuing a trend that typically accompanies Diaz's pressure scheme. His Louisiana Tech defense last season led the nation with 42 takeaways and tied for first with 26 interceptions, which prompted LSU coach Les Miles to discuss his defensive coordinator opening with Diaz last offseason after John Chavis bolted for Texas A&M.
"If you lead the country in turnovers, that really says a lot about your resume," LSU receiver John Diarse said.
However, Diarse and teammates Malachi Dupre and Dillon Gordon said they didn't detect a major difference between the Mississippi State defensive scheme they saw against USM and the one that Geoff Collins employed last season.
"I think the biggest thing is really personnel, the changes that they have in the secondary," Dupre said. "They play the same technique and the same coverages for the most part."
As Mullen said, he doesn't have much evidence for how LSU might attack his offense on Saturday. Steele's defense played only one series against McNeese before the cancellation, forcing a three-and-out with blitzes on second and third downs.
The small sample size is not particularly helpful when planning for an LSU defense that was breaking in six new starters when the McNeese game opened. A larger body of work would have been much more instructive, but the Bulldogs will use that film and the LSU coaches' past tendencies to scheme for Saturday as best they can.
"So as long as we master what we have on them and what the defensive coordinators have done in the past, I think we will be ready to go," Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott said.
But neither team can rely heavily on their impressions of the opponent's 2014 defenses -- even LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, who understands that his success while leading a late rally against Mississippi State last season won't count for much on Saturday.
"It's a totally different defensive coordinator," Harris said. "I'm not looking at that film from last year saying, ‘We did this' or ‘We did that.' Technically it was a three-man rush, so there was no pressure on me the whole night. That's like going outside and playing 7-on-7 or playing in shorts and T-shirts. They're going to be a totally different scheme."