By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Only a handful of plays into his sophomore year at LSU, All-American level defensive lineman Maason Smith suffered a freak ACL tear, sending him to the sidelines for the entirety of his second season.
Losing the future 1st Round pick against Florida State was a massive blow, not only for the previously high ranked Tigers' defensive line but for the psychological well being of the entire team.
Up front, there was a night and day difference without Smith's presence:
Drawing double teams by his mere existence, Maason would've helped to wear down Florida State's front, DL Coach Jamar Cain would've moved him from DT to DE with no problems, and as we watched over his only plays, defensive coordinator Matt House stunted him inside or rolled him from the interior off the edge....leaving FSU's offensive line befuddled.
There was even one snap where a Seminole lineman kept shoving Smith after the whistle, until Maason made his presence felt....forcing the senior offensive lineman to shy away quickly.
The former 5 star's impact was already evident when he barreled through FSU's starting center, pinning him back, occupying a desperate lunge from a Seminole guard and driving both in reverse.
Burying these two linemen into their own backfield, Maason blew up the entire play, creating a perfect lane for safety Major Burns to fly in and clean up for one of his 2 tackles for loss on the night.
After making his first play as a sophomore, LSU's young defensive talisman leapt into the air with a pumped fist, celebrating the cohesive teamwork from Coach House's defense.
But as he descended toward the Superdome turf below, Maason's left leg stretched out awkwardly, buckling when the former Terrebonne powerhouse's foot landed.
Immediately, Smith grimaced, grabbed at his left knee and fell to the turf in devastation....not so much from the pain of his injury itself, Smith's agony was from the realization that his second season would end on the same drive and day in which it began.
Sadly, this was now Maason's second big injury in 9 months:
Suffering a season-ending injury during 2021's Ole Miss game, the All-SEC Freshman selection missed LSU's final five games of the year, including the SEC West rivalry trio of Alabama, A&M and Arkansas.
The whole situation leaves us with a sickening feeling when we realize the special moments Maason will miss out on and how much we lose as fans of the game by his absence:
To put the sense of waste and sadness into perspective, due to injuries, LSU's highly likely top 20 pick might only face Alabama once in his three seasons at LSU.
Maason will need support over these next days, weeks and months, his injury casting him in the shadows while the busy college football season plugs along, leaving those unfit to perform in its wake.
More than the horrific timing (the premature derailing of an entire season) or savage severity of Maason's injury, there was a palpable sense that this scenario wasn't only cruel, it was divinely unfair.
Even neutrals couldn't help but feel robbed.
Head Coach Brian Kelly perfectly encapsulated the tone of anyone with the slightest interest or admiration for the LSU defensive lineman, offering his numb, disgusted perspective on the reality of Maason's injury:
“We’re crushed for him because he was celebrating for a teammate on the play and trying to show his support. So anytime you suffer an injury under those circumstances, it’s extremely disappointing. He’s a great player… but it’s next man up now for us."
Sunday's moment supplied shades of K'Lavon Chaisson's 2018 ACL tear against Miami, another highly anticipated sophomore D-lineman taken out on opening weekend inside an enorm-a-dome.
Though Chaisson's path was uncertain amidst the 2019 off-season, we all know how his story ended at LSU:
Wearing a National Championship ring as part of college football's greatest squad, 13 appearances as the powerhouse starter we always expected him to become, 6.5 sacks (all earned against top 10 competition) alongside a 1st Round NFL Draft selection by Jacksonville.
No doubt there are parallels between Chaisson & Maason's injuries, but what matters most right now?
How Maason feels mentally as well as physically over the next 9 months.
It hurts knowing Maason Smith's elegant havoc up front will be historically missing for 18 appearances over his first two years, keeping one of the game's best talents away from the field.
How will LSU make up for big 0's absence?
While still being elite themselves, Mekhi Wingo, who played out of his mind on Sunday, Jacobian Guillory and Jaquelin Roy are not the same kind of athlete Maason is.
So....I ask again, how will Smith's absence affect LSU's defensive line?
It'll affect their ability to attack from all angles, knowing they are now without a defensive tackle capable of quickly making up large amounts of ground, all while possessing the size of a massive tackle or the pace of a 4 star edge rusher.
Smith's injury will also prevent Cain's pass rushing or formation experimentation, being able to stunt and twist Smith with Gaye or Ojulari on the outside.
LSU's defensive line are still capable of becoming an elite unit without Maason, though his absence removes a major chunk of athleticism and unpredictability from the Tigers' front four.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
©️ 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
DEDICATED TO MAASON SMITH
YOU WILL RISE AGAIN,
EVEN HIGHER THAN BEFORE,
NO INJURY CAN STOP YOU,
ONLY YOU CAN CLOSE THAT DOOR