Many college football teams publish a depth chart that includes the top two players at every position. Navy, however, produces one that sometimes goes four-deep and for good reason.
The Midshipmen have always relied on a variety of players to carve out success, and that depth was apparent in their 24-21 win against Pittsburgh at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis this past Saturday.
Third-string fullback Quinton Singleton carried the ball five times for 27 yards and scored on a 9-yard run that gave the team a 14-13 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
Backup nose guard Travis Bridges made five tackles and forced a fumble while helping anchor a run defense that allowed just 18 yards on six rushing attempts in the final quarter.
And outside linebacker Obi Uzoma sacked Panthers senior quarterback Tom Savage on their final possession of the contest that set up Navy's game-winning drive capped by sophomore Nick Sloan's 30-yard field goal with no time remaining.
"People were stepping up and making plays when we needed them," senior inside linebacker and co-captain Cody Peterson said.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo said Monday the team's depth is highlighted whenever a starter goes down because of injury.
"We're not the biggest team," he said. "So unfortunately, injuries are a part of football. Guys get hurt, and the next guy's got to step up. The guys have been doing a good job of doing that."
That was the case for Singleton. He replaced junior Noah Copeland, who had established career highs in carries (28) and yards (153) in the team's 45-44 double-overtime loss to Toledo the week before but left after suffering an injury in the second quarter against Pittsburgh.
"That's what we prepare for every week," Singleton said. "I feel like any other 'B' back could have done the same thing. It's the way we practice. I saw that Noah went down, I didn't want to let my teammates down. That's what pushed me."
Bridges was inserted into the defensive front to add more mass against the Panthers' beefy offensive line. The 6-foot, 318-pound Bridges joined starting sophomore nose guard Bernard Sarra, who shifted to defensive end.
"It just felt good to be able to play out there and show the coaches what I can do and help the team as much as I can every chance I get," Bridges said. "I guess if you think about it, you would say it's a lot of pressure. But at the same time, the guys that are out there already have a lot of pressure. They're depending on you to do the same job out there. So I don't think about it as pressure. I just think about it as doing what you came here to do."
Uzoma filled in for junior Jordan Drake and pulled down Savage for a 7-yard loss that led to a Pittsburgh three-and-out in the fourth quarter.
"We needed a big stop that drive," Uzoma said. "The sack was due to really, really great coverage on the back end. They held the quarterback just enough for me to get around and get to him. It was a team effort."
The Midshipmen boast experience and proven ability at practically almost every position on offense and defense. The only spot that might be lacking is at the quarterback position, where sophomore Keenan Reynolds is backed by a pair of freshmen in Tago Smith and Will Worth.
But youth and inexperience are not excuses at Navy. Singleton and Bridges said they are fully aware of the expectations placed on them and their fellow reserves, and Niumatalolo said the backups are capable of performing as well as the starters.
"The bar doesn't lower for anybody," he said. "We've got to make sure that the standard's high. Pitt was a very good football team, and we were fortunate to get out of there with a W. So if somebody goes down, the next guy recognizes that he's got to make sure that he's ready to go, too."
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun