For the first time this season, Pitt had to rely on its depth in the offensive line Saturday against Old Dominion.
Left guard Cory King couldn't play because of a back injury, so the Panthers turned to Ryan Schlieper, a redshirt senior who began 2012 as Pitt's starting right guard. A foot injury cost Schlieper the second half of the season, and he lost his starting position over the offseason.
The line didn't show any signs of rust or miscommunication with Schlieper stepping up. The unit paved the way for 266 rushing yards and yielded only two sacks.
"He just jumped right in there," right guard Matt Rotheram said. "You didn't feel like anything was missing with Cory not being there."
Even sometimes hard-to-please offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he was happy with Schlieper's performance.
"He met our expectations," Hueber said. "We didn't want to miss a beat, and I don't think we did. I think he was really into the game, he knew the adjustments. For him, he would tell you that he's happy he got the chance. He embraced it; it's kind of what you wanted to happen."
Hueber said the main reason Schlieper lost his starting job was due to lingering injuries that limited him in spring practices. Tackles King and Rotheram moved to guard in the offseason, and locked down starting spots while Schlieper worked his way back to full health.
Hueber, though, credited Schlieper for staying engaged mentally.
"I don't know that we'll turn him into Rudy or anything like that. But he is [a player for younger guys to look up to,]" Hueber said.
"He embraced the role as the backup guy, never misses anything, always there, always involved in the meetings and stuff, and then it paid off for him when it's his turn."
Schlieper likely will be back in the lineup Saturday against Navy as the offensive line tries to build on its strong performance.
Even after giving up a combined total of 15 sacks in consecutive games against Virginia and Virginia Tech in the weeks earlier, Rotheram said the line's confidence is in a good place after the win against Old Dominion.
"When you're pounding the ball on a team like that, you just want to keep it coming," he said. "There were times when we called the same play multiple times in a row just because it was working and they couldn't stop it. That feels great as an offensive lineman."
Pitt once again will have a physical edge this week because their offensive linemen will outweigh the Midshipmen defensive linemen by an average of 45 pounds. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, though, said Navy could still present some problems.
"They're disciplined and they're physical," Rudolph said. "You appreciate that, seeing it on the film, seeing what they do. We've just got to go out and execute. You've got confidence in lining up and knowing what you're going to see, but you've got to execute it and make it work."
■ Game: Pitt (4-2) at Navy (3-3), Annapolis, Md.
■ When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
■ TV: CBS Sports Network.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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