The expectations for Maason Smith were sky-high entering 2022. The sophomore was expected to be one of the best players in the SEC and a force on the defensive line.
LSU had a lot of questions, but he wasn’t one of them.
When Smith went down on the first drive of the year, there was some concern for where that unit was headed. Smith was the anchor that the rest of the defense could be built around.
You can’t replace him, but that’s what Mekhi Wingo has been tasked with doing. Three games in, we can start to gain a sense of how Wingo has played in Smith’s absence.
It’s not always easy to judge how an interior defensive lineman has played. The work doesn’t always show up in the stats and without a playbook, you don’t know what their assignment is on every play.
With that being said, let’s jump right into Wingo’s performance.
There were a few occasions on Saturday in which Mississippi State tried to test LSU’s defense on fourth and short. For the most part, LSU held strong, and Wingo made his presence known on a few of those stops.
Close to the three-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs tried a run up the middle on fourth and one. Wingo fought off the left tackle to collapse inside, meeting Major Burns and Mike Jones Jr. to make the stop.
Despite finding some success early, Mississippi State went away from the run game as Wingo and others defended the front.
According to PFF, Wingo has been one of the best run-defenders in the SEC. His 82.7 run defense grade ranks third among interior defensive linemen that have played 100 snaps.
Wingo has five stops on the year and hasn’t missed a tackle.
The biggest difference between Wingo and Smith comes when rushing the passer. Smith’s pass rushing ability was considered exceptional for a defensive tackle.
LSU often takes Wingo out when using a pass rush package, opting to put in Sai'vion Jones or an extra defensive back to bring off the edge. Wingo’s one sack on the year came against Southern, but he has applied at least one pressure in every game.
At this point, it’s hard not to be pleased with Wingo’s performance. He was expected to have a prominent spot in the rotation whether Smith was healthy or not, now he’s the guy.
Playing up front next to Jaquelin Roy helps, too. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, Roy is a force and one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the SEC.
Roy and Wingo are a duo up front that should be formidable against 95% of offensive lines in the country, maybe more.