COLUMBIA, Mo. — Barry Odom’s record in the month of November has been a popular talking point of late, for good reason. Missouri has won nine consecutive November games under Odom’s watch and gone 10-2 overall in the regular season’s final month since he took over as coach in 2016.
“We don’t lose in November, so we’re trying to keep it that way,” cornerback Christian Holmes said this week. “That’s what Coach Odom has been preaching since I’ve been here. No-loss November. We’re ready for the challenge.”
But here comes Georgia.
For the first time in his four seasons at Mizzou, Odom will cross paths with the Bulldogs in his signature month — and that could be enough to bring the Tigers’ trend to a screeching halt. The No. 6 Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) sit alone in first place in the SEC East Division. This week they checked in as the highest-ranked one-loss team in the College Football Playoff standings. That means Georgia’s playoff hopes can’t afford another loss, just as fading Missouri (5-3, 2-2) visits Athens, Ga., for Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff (St. Louis time) on ESPN.
For Mizzou, last week’s bye was a chance to rest injuries and address a lifeless offense. The Tigers have managed just three touchdowns on their last 29 possessions, dating to the fourth quarter of their 38-27 win Oct. 12 over Ole Miss. Odom’s team followed that victory with losses at Vanderbilt and Kentucky, both underdogs by double-digit points.
The Tigers, underdogs for the first time this season at a whopping 17 points, won’t have a chance at Sanford Stadium if they can’t move the chains, but for Odom’s defense, Saturday’s game is a chance to save face after two rough road outings. Mizzou still ranks among the nation’s elite defenses in several categories — 10th in yards allowed per play, fourth in passing yards allowed per game, fourth in defensive pass efficiency — but struggled to limit explosive plays at Vandy and Kentucky.
Now, here comes Georgia, the most prolific offensive team in the SEC East. Let Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters count the ways.
“They do everything well, man,” Walters said. “They’ve got as good as an offensive line as there is in the country. They got a bunch of juniors and sophomores, but they’ve all played a lot of ball. And I think both the tackles have been in the starting rotation since their freshman year. Really big, really powerful, very well-coached up front.
“The running backs are physical, fast. (D’Andre) Swift, this is his third year now. He’s played a lot of ball. I thought his freshman year he was really special when we played them there.
“And then the quarterback (Jake Fromm). He’s pro style, doesn’t make mistakes. He gets the ball out on time. He gets to his third progression, has a good command of the offense. You can go on and on about their offense. They’re as efficient as any offense in the country right now.”
Walters’ defense has faced some challenges this year but nothing like Georgia’ balanced attack. It’s no coincidence that Fromm is the division’s only quarterback who hasn’t missed time with an injury. He plays behind a rugged, seasoned offensive line, coached by veteran assistant Sam Pittman, who briefly held the same role at Mizzou back in 2000. Georgia’s front five has allowed the fewest sacks in the country, just four.
“They’re so good at the point of attack and with a double team,” Odom said. “They’ll knock you out of your gap integrity, just because of their size and their strength and the way they play. I think Sam Pittman is a tremendous coach.”
Swift is on pace for an All-SEC season as just one of five Georgia running backs averaging more than 5.4 yards per carry. Fromm’s playmakers at receiver have taken turns providing big games. Lawrence Cager, a 6-5 graduate transfer from Miami, was the latest, roasting Florida for 132 yards on seven catches last week.
Fromm doesn’t have the gaudy stats of Heisman Trophy candidates at Alabama and Louisiana State, but he’s one of the country’s most accomplished winners. He put a third-down passing clinic on Florida last week.
Missouri’s secondary has allowed only 144.5 passing yards per game — only Ohio State, Clemson and Wisconsin allow fewer — down from 262 yards allowed last year.
Those lofty rankings will be put to the test Saturday against the best collection of offensive talent the Tigers have seen all year.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge because they’ve got the ability to stretch the field and throw the back-shoulder fade,” Odom said. “They can get enough speed that they can get on top of you. Then there’s their intermediate pass game … the way Fromm is able to decipher and really deliver the ball out of the break, the timing. Every area will be tested.”
That’s true no matter what month the calendar reads.