ATHENS, Ga. — Charles Grant was surrounded by a circle of reporters at Georgia's weekly press conference Tuesday when a new face popped up in the crowd with a question:
"Charles, is it true that you have six sacks this year because of the pressure from the middle of the defensive line?''
The player-turned-reporter with the question for Grant was defensive tackle Josh Mallard, and Grant appeared slightly stunned before accepting the suggestion.
"Yes, that's right,'' Grant said, giving Mallard and other interior defensive linemen their due credit.
Otherwise, there were not many concessions in the good-natured exchanges between Mallard and Grant, who rank fifth (17) and seventh (15), respectively, on Georgia's career sacks list entering Saturday's final regular season game against Houston.
Houston (0-10) throws about 40 passes per game, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Grant and Mallard to try to boost their respective sack totals in Saturday's final regular-season game for No. 16 Georgia (7-3).
Mallard, a senior who has played noseguard, defensive tackle and defensive end, came back from a knee injury to record two second-half sacks in last week's 31-17 win at Georgia Tech.
Grant, a junior, broke out of a sacks slump with four against Auburn on Nov. 10, and he followed that with one sack of Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning two weeks ago and another against Georgia Tech's George Godsey.
Grant leads Georgia with six sacks this season, but he has an eye on the career list.
"Josh is a good guy,'' Grant said. "I think he's one sack ahead of me. He's been here four years and I've been here three years. I think by the end of Saturday's game, I'll have more sacks than him.''
Listening from his interview session only a few feet away, Mallard could not resist the challenge.
"What? What is that you're saying?'' Mallard said. "I was hurt most of my first year and only played in about three games.''
Actually, Mallard played in 10 games as a noseguard in 1998 as a redshirt freshman, and he made a memorable debut with 3.5 sacks against Kent. Mallard led Georgia with six sacks in '98, before adding four in 1999, three last season and four this year.
Similarly, Grant made a big debut in his 1999 freshman year, leading the team with seven sacks, including three against Kentucky. But Grant fell back to two sacks last year — both against Tennessee. After the 2000 win over Tennessee, Grant played 15 games without a sack before his breakout against Auburn.
Grant had pulled even with Mallard on the career list with a sack at the end of the first half.
"It was kind of nice to hit (Godsey) in the mouth,'' Grant said Tuesday.
Then Mallard, who has battled a sprained knee the last few weeks and limped off the field after aggravating the injury in the first half, pulled ahead with two sacks for a combined loss of 17 yards.
"I hadn't been able to sack a Tech quarterback in three years,'' Mallard said.
Mallard says he and Grant have fun with their sacks race.
"He tells me by the end of the year he's going to be ahead of me and I tell him I don't think so,'' Mallard said. "I kept my mouth shut when he had four against Auburn.''
If Grant returns for his senior season, he should easily pass Mallard. With a strong senior season, Grant might even challenge Georgia's all-time sacks leaders, though fourth-place Freddie Gilbert's total of 27 sacks is nine ahead of fifth-place Mallard.
Mallard won't climb higher than fifth, but he's happy to be in the Georgia records.
Said Mallard: "Obviously it means a lot to be someplace in Georgia history.''
It might mean even more to be a spot or two ahead of Grant in Georgia history.
NOTES: Receiver Fred Gibson missed practice Wednesday with a stomach virus.... Freshman offensive lineman Dennis Roland suffered a knee injury that is not believed to be serious. ... Receiver Damien Gary is still questionable with a sprained knee. ... Receiver Tavarus Morgan is close to returning from a shoulder injury. ... Offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb is making good progress but is not expected to play this week.
Richt praised the practice work of freshman quarterback D.J. Shockley. "He's really getting better,'' Richt said, adding that he expects "a good competition coming on'' between Shockley and David Greene. ...Director of sports medicine Ron Courson delivered David Jacobs the game ball Wednesday from Saturday's win over Georgia Tech. "Two (game balls for Jacobs) down, two to go,'' Richt said. Jacobs is still recovering from a stroke at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Contrary to one report, Jacobs has not yet been transferred to another rehabilitation facility.