By CHARLES ODUM
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — When Southeastern Conference coaches gather and Georgia’s Kirby Smart wants to talk defense, he looks for Missouri’s Barry Odom.
Smart sees Odom as a like-minded coach. Both were defensive coordinators before being hired to take over programs at their alma maters.
One more similarity: Smart and Odom bring the SEC’s top defenses into Saturday night’s important Eastern Division game.
Following last week’s emotional 24-17 win over Florida, No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 4-1, No. 6 College Football Playoff) needs a win over Missouri (5-3, 2-2) to solidify its lead in the East.
The Bulldogs have won two straight since a double-overtime home loss to South Carolina. They can’t afford another loss if they want to protect their national championship hopes.
Odom’s Tigers also have hopes of winning the East.
“Got a lot of respect for him,” Smart said. “He’s a guy that I share a lot of ideas with and discuss a lot of things with when we are at SEC meetings.”
Missouri will be playing to become bowl-eligible — but only if they win their appeal of an NCAA postseason ban for academic misconduct involving a former tutor.
Georgia’s defense leads the league against the run. Missouri is the SEC’s toughest pass defense. It’s no surprise that the Bulldogs and Tigers are the SEC’s top defenses in total yards allowed, ahead of Alabama and LSU.
Smart said he studies the Missouri defense “because we are always trying to get better and they do different things than we do.”
″… We are always trying to steal ideas from them,” Smart said. “I have a lot of respect for them and the way they play defense.”
The Bulldogs, led by linebackers Monty Rice and Tae Crowder and safety J.R. Reed, allow the league’s fewest points per game.
“Georgia is one of the best defenses in the country,” Odom said. ”… They’ve got great athletes all over the field. It’ll be a tremendous challenge.”
The Bulldogs are the nation’s only team to not allow a rushing touchdown.
“We try to take a lot of pride in that accomplishment, but coach Smart always reminds us to stay humble about it,” said defensive end Malik Herring. “He jokes that the scout team scores on us, so it keeps us motivated, but it is a pretty cool statistic.”
Some other thing to know when Georgia hosts Missouri:
The Tigers are 0-3 on the road, including losses in back-to-back SEC games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Odom said there’s no common thread to the team’s losses away from home.
“I wish it was easy enough just to point — home games this, and away games that,” he said. “But it’s not. We haven’t played well enough to win in those three losses and it’s a number of things.”
Missouri is 10-2 in November in Odom’s first three seasons, including nine straight wins. The streak began with a win over Arkansas on Nov. 25, 2016 and included wins over Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Vanderbilt each of the last two seasons.
BYE BYE BLUES
Missouri is one of Georgia’s five opponents who have open weeks before facing the Bulldogs. Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida also were off the weeks before playing Georgia. Auburn is off this week before next week’s game against the Bulldogs.
There has been some uncertainty about the status of Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant, who suffered a strained hamstring in the loss at Kentucky two weeks ago. After saying on Tuesday that Bryant and backup Taylor Powell would split work in practice, Odom said Bryant, the transfer from Clemson, “took the majority of the snaps” with the first-team offense on Wednesday.
“I think Kelly is on track to play,” Odom said.
DON’T TURN THAT DIAL
There might be a temptation for Georgia and Missouri players to watch the start of LSU-Alabama matchup of the nation’s top-ranked teams before pregame warmups in Athens. Smart just shrugged when asked if he’ll try to keep his players away from the TV.
“Yeah, I don’t know how I would monitor that,” he said. “If you figure that out, let me know, because I’m not the TV police. So we don’t monitor that.”