MORGANTOWN — After just one game with West Virginia, new Mountaineer Kole Taylor is already halfway to matching the team’s most productive tight end from last season.
In 2022, Mike O’Laughlin led WVU tight ends with five catches for 66 yards. On Saturday against Penn State, Taylor, a transfer from LSU, caught two passes for 31 yards.
“I really thought that Kole Taylor did some good things,” head coach Neal Brown said Monday. “When you go back and watch the game, he should’ve had five catches for about 50 yards and I think that’s what he can be.”
If Taylor averages 50 yards per game, we would surpass all of WVU’s tight end production for last season by week three.
“It’s on me,” Taylor said. “If I get open, they’re going to throw me the ball. If I get open, they’re going to call plays for me. It’s really on me to do my job.”
At 6-7 and 250 pounds, Taylor is naturally a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs, but he’s out to prove he is more than just a receiving threat this year.
“As a tight end you can’t just be a pass-catcher,” he said. “You still have to do the nitty gritty and block and everything.”
WVU primarily played in two tight end sets against the Nittany Lions, utilizing Taylor and redshirt sophomore Treylan Davis. It was a bid to help the Mountaineers’ running game against the stout Penn State defense and it seemed to work as running back CJ Donaldson (18 carries, 81 yards) and quarterback Garrett Greene (15 carries, 71 yards) found success on the ground and each averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry.
“Kole’s improved big time,” offensive coordinator Chad Scott said. “On the run CJ Donaldson had going into the endzone, he did a good job of digging the defensive end out. He’s doing a good job and he wants to be good at blocking.”
“I never like being just called a pass-catching right end or just a run-blocking tight end,” Taylor said. “I think as a tight end you have to do everything and you have to be able to do everything, especially if you want to play at the next level. If I wanted to be a pass-catcher, I should just be a receiver, if I wanted to be a blocker, just be a lineman.”
In addition to using multiple tight ends, something else that would help WVU’s running game is perimeter blocking by the wide receivers. Leading receiver Devin Carter said that’s an area he hopes to improve in going into week two.
“I always think the first game goes a little slow for me,” he said. “I’ve just got to feel it out.”
Carter caught six passes for a team-high 90 yards on Saturday. He primarily played with fellow receivers Cortez Braham and Preston Fox.
“If they can do that, that’d be huge,” Scott said of the receivers’ blocking. “We need those guys to be better blocking on the perimeter. With the running backs we’ve got and the offensive line we’ve got, if we can do a great job of blocking downfield and on the perimeter, we’ll create more explosive plays with their effort doing that.”
In addition to Carter, Braham and Fox, true freshman Traylon Ray also got some run at receiver, catching two passes for seven yards. Classmate Rodney Gallagher, WVU’s highest-rated recruit this past year, saw very little action on offense, something Brown wants to change moving forward.
“He’ll play more moving forward, he’s going to play,” Brown said. “In retrospect, maybe we should’ve used him a little bit more in that game. Preston (Fox) played the majority of the snaps in the slot, but Rodney will play this week and if he produces, he’ll continue to play more.”
Brown said Gallagher will get plenty of chances to play this week against FCS opponent Duquesne.
A Late Start
A pleasant surprise for WVU on Saturday was the play of its defensive line against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions averaged 180 rushing yards per game last season, but only had 146 on Saturday, and only had 63 in the tightly-contested first half.
One of the standouts was junior Mike Lockhart, who played 45 snaps and finished with two tackles. Lockhart, who transferred from Georgia Tech last season, is still in the early stages of his football career, having just picked up the sport as a high school senior.
“I wish I would have played earlier in high school,” he admitted Monday. “I wish somebody would have come and told me I should have been a football player.”
Lockhart said he was a basketball player up until his final year of high school.
“The transition from basketball to football definitely helped, especially with my footwork and lateral quickness,” he said. “There were a couple of people begging me (to play football). By my senior year, we didn’t have basketball so I thought I might as well try football. I was blessed to get a couple of offers from different schools in the Power Five.”
He redshirted his first year at Georgia Tech then played two seasons with the Yellow Jackets before transferring to WVU prior to the 2022 season.
Saturday’s game at Penn State was the Mountaineers’ third straight season opener played away from Mountaineer Field. They will host Duquesne on Saturday at 6 p.m. for their home opener.
Last Saturday could have been the home opener for Carter, who was verbally committed to transfer to Penn State before flipping to WVU this offseason.
“It was cool, it was a good experience,” he said. “I got to play in (Beaver Stadium) regardless but I prefer our stadium over theirs.”
This Saturday will also be the home debut for Taylor.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “With the fan day and the spring game I’ve had a little taste of it, but I’m super excited to play in front of everyone. I just know how much this means to everyone in the state of West Virginia and I know how passionate these fans are and it’s awesome.”
Hailing from Colorado, Taylor said both of his parents were able to make it to Penn State and his mother is sticking around in Morgantown in order to attend the Duquesne game as well.
“I was fortunate enough that both of my parents came to this game at Penn State,” Taylor said. “My mom’s actually staying with me this whole week in my apartment, she’ll be at the Duquesne game.
“She’s going to cook some meals for me this week so it’ll be nice getting some homecooked meals. My favorite is probably biscuits and gravy. That’s my number one.”
Several players were out against the Nittany Lions, including receivers EJ Horton and Ja’Shun Poke.
“EJ missed the game, he’ll miss this week as well and we’ll hopefully get him back by week three,” Brown said. “Ja’Shaun Pome practiced a little bit last week and he dressed, probably could’ve played in an emergency. So the two guys we went out and got in the portal that can really run didn’t play.”
Freshman running back Jaheim White was also out, but Brown hopes to have him back for this week. Brown also estimated that defensive lineman Asani Redwood is two weeks away from playing.