When LSU takes the field Saturday night for what will be the Tigers’ official season opener, Les Miles will be going against a familiar foe in Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
While the two have never worked together, Miles has a lot of admiration for Diaz, a highly-respected defensive coordinator who was at Louisiana Tech last season before beginning his second stint as State’s defensive boss in January.
Diaz was reportedly among three coaches Miles considered when he was looking for a special teams coach in 2014, then talked to Diaz when defensive coordinator John Chavis departed after LSU’s Music City Bowl loss last Dec. 30.
“I just know Manny, and I talked to him several times about our coordinator’s job, just to kind of see where he was at and what kind of things were important to him,” Miles said. “I found him to be a professional and a very talented coach.
“He’s got all the things you would need to give an offense fits,” he added. “He’ll line up in a nice over-the-top zone, yet he can bring it from one side or the other. He’s a fundamentalist, he’s tremendously capable in terms of how you take on blocks and how you leverage blocks. You just see it when their kids play.”
Diaz has gone against LSU as a defensive coordinator twice in Miles’ 10-year tenure with the Tigers. While he was at Middle Tennessee State in 2007, LSU won 44-0 and the Tigers defeated State 29-7 in 2010.
Shortly after the McNeese game was canceled, Miles said practice sessions for Mississippi State would include more 11-on-11 work with an emphasis on speed to the ball.
That would hopefully help make up for the valuable game snaps his players missed on both sides of the line of scrimmage last week.
Miles said Wednesday he got what he wanted in that regard.
“Yeah, Tuesday and Wednesday have been a pair of very quality practices,” he said during his final news conference of the week. “There was a lot of time against the defense and lot of time against the offense (ones vs. ones).”
Miles noted there were no other changes in the practice routine as a result of the McNeese cancellation.
“Not really, we just tried to keep a fresh demeanor and yet practice the game plan,” he said.
Toliver shows up early
LSU freshman cornerback Kevin Toliver II didn’t get the luxury of having a play or two to get acclimated to the college game before last week’s game was canceled.
On its first play, McNeese State ran a jet sweep at Toliver. Unblocked, he sealed the edge and made the tackle on the Cowboys’ Tavarious Battiste for a 1-yard loss.
The play, which helped the Tigers record a three-and-out on what would be their only series of the night, didn’t surprise junior safety Rickey Jefferson.
“Kevin Toliver made a great play,” Jefferson said. “That’s expected. Young guys have got to play like Tigers, and that’s what he does.”
Toliver started at left corner in LSU’s nickel package, with junior Dwayne Thomas taking the slot. Thomas and Toliver are battling for the starting job with sophomore Ed Paris behind them on the depth chart in the team’s 4-3 base defense, which LSU did not employ against McNeese.
Saturday night’s game will mark the 109th meeting in football between LSU and Mississippi State, with the Tigers holding a 71-34-3 lead in a series that began in 1896. LSU has played more games and has more wins against Mississippi State than any other school.
Despite last year’s 34-29 loss in Tiger Stadium, LSU has still won 21 of its last 23 matchups with State — including seven consecutive wins in Starkville. LSU won 59-26 in its last visit there in 2013.
“We did not have cowbell music. … We looked for the album (laughter), we couldn’t find it in the stores. So, we piped in some noise, Bon Jovi, and some other noise.”
— Miles, on trying to simulate the clanging cowbells his Tigers will have to deal with Saturday night in Davis Wade Stadium
Despite their long history, this will be just the second time LSU and Mississippi State have met while both were ranked in the AP poll. The only other time was in 2012, when No. 9 LSU took down No. 22 Mississippi State 37-17 in Tiger Stadium. … The Tigers haven’t lost back-to-back games to the Bulldogs since 1990-91. … Despite the fact that Mississippi is frequently a recruiting resource for LSU, the Tigers have just one player from that state on its current roster: sophomore linebacker Devin Voorhies, who is from nearby Woodville. ... The 2000 LSU-Mississippi State game, which was won by the Tigers 45-38, will be shown Friday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN Classic.
Sheldon Mickles, Scott Rabalais and Marcus Rodrigue contributed to this report.