Mississippi State has a new man in charge of its defense, but he's hardly new to Starkville.
Manny Diaz returns as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator after last serving in that position in 2010. The defense hasn't changed much from what it was in recent years under Geoff Collins. State will utilize a base 4-3 scheme with a lot of Cover 2. But the Bulldogs will mix up coverages and bring a lot of exotic pressure, a trademark of the Diaz defense.
State held Southern Miss to 102 rushing yards last week, but did give up 311 through the air. The Bulldogs kept it pretty vanilla though and will bust out the big guns this weekend against LSU.
What can LSU expect from Mississippi State on Saturday? We break that all down in this scouting report:
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MISSISSIPPI STATE STARTING DEFENSE
DE: Ryan Brown (Sr., 6-6, 266)
DT: Nick James (Jr., 6-5, 325)
DT: Chris Jones (Jr., 6-6, 308)
DE: AJ Jefferson (Jr., 6-3, 277)
LB: Zach Jackson (Sr., 6-2, 212)
LB: Richie Brown (Jr., 6-2, 245)
LB: Beniquez Brown (Jr., 6-1, 238)
CB: Will Redmond (Sr., 6-0, 186)
FS: Kivon Coman (Jr., 6-3, 196)
SS: Kendrick Market (Sr., 5-10, 196)
CB: Taveze Calhoun (Sr., 6-1, 180)
Notable Backups: CB Tolando Cleveland (Jr., 6-0, 190), CB Cedric Jiles (Jr., 5-10, 182), DE Johnathan Calvin (Jr., 6-3, 263), DE Will Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 250), DT Nelson Adams (Jr., 6-3, 310), S Deontay Evans (Jr., 5-10, 204)
It starts up front where both of Mississippi State's starting DEs had monster games last week against Southern Miss.
AJ Jefferson played behind eventual second-round draft pick Preston Smith a year ago, but he still got a lot of time. That experienced seems to be paying off as he had a pair of sacks and seven tackles last week. His position-mate Ryan Brown was also a steady presence in the backfield. He had four quarterback hurries and also notched a sack. He's also probably one of State's top NFL Draft prospects with a long, athletic frame at 6-foot-6.
These two combined for eight tackles against LSU last season.
At tackle, Chris Jones occupies a lot of attention from opposing offenses. He faces a lot of double teams, which opens things up for the linebackers behind him. He still managed five tackles and a pass breakup against Southern Miss. He's joined by Nick James, who at 325 pounds mostly lines up at the nose. Maturity has been a concern through his career, and he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but State coaches called his performance last week the best of his career, and they're optimistic he's starting to live up to potential.
State will keep a rotation of defensive linemen to maintain freshness. Johnathan Calvin is a JUCO transfer that mostly comes in behind Brown. Will Coleman is the pass-rushing specialist, and Nelson Adams is a big boy that can play several spots along the line.
At linebacker, Richie Brown is the MIKE, filling the big shoes of Bernardrick McKinney. Beniquez Brown, the only returning LB starter, plays the WILL and Zach Jackson the SAM. These three combined for 23 tackles last week, led by Richie Brown with 11.
Behind them are some young, talented linebackers that will play against LSU — JT Gray, Gerri Green and Dez Harris.
In the secondary, State should get the return of Talveze Calhoun. He was held out of action last week as a precaution after undergoing a procedure on his knee during the offseason. Tolando Cleveland started in his place and was one of State's defensive players of the week with 0.5 sack and a pass breakup. You'll likely see both on the field as State goes to extra-DB sets.
Will Redmond is the other starting corner. He had an interception last week in what was his first career start. Also look for Cedric Jiles to get some work as the nickel or dimeback.
At strong safety, Kendrick Market is one of the few returning starters to this defense. He had three stops against LSU last season, including one for a loss, and he had five last week against Southern Miss. State considers free safety Kivon Coman one of its most improved players. Behind him is Deontay Evans, who has some starting experience as well.