Taylor enjoying expanded role at West Virginia, looks to build on success late in junior season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia added tight end Kole Taylor to its roster last offseason, the Mountaineers did so with an understanding that Taylor wouldn’t need to adjust to highest level of college football.

The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Taylor had played three seasons at LSU, and though his role hasn’t been what it is in Morgantown, Taylor had shown enough on tape that West Virginia figured he could be an integral part of the team’s offense in 2023.

Through nine games, Taylor has been just that and he enters Saturday’s 7 p.m. matchup at No. 17 Oklahoma with a team-best 25 receptions for 305 yards. Taylor’s three touchdown receptions are second on the Mountaineers, and his yardage is second to wideout Devin Carter, who has 414 yards on 23 catches.

“We felt like Kole and Devin would probably be our most targeted guys and they’ve been to this point,” head coach Neal Brown said. “We’ve missed them on some throws and they have to do some better things in the route game, but not surprised those guys are our most targeted.”

Up until a 37-7 win over BYU last week, Taylor had multiple receptions in every game as a Mountaineer. Over three seasons at LSU, Taylor had 17 receptions and one touchdown and caught more than one pass on four occasions.

“They’re holding true to what they said,” Taylor said of being a primary target in the WVU pass game. “I love being here, playing for coach Brown and [first-year tight ends coach Blaine Stewart].”

Despite latching on to only one pass against the Cougars, Taylor made it count.

It came late in the third quarter with West Virginia leading 30-0 at the time when Taylor brought in a pass from quarterback Garrett Greene on second-and-9 from the BYU 43. The reception was made at the Cougars’ 27, and from there Taylor escaped tackle attempts from defensive backs Preston Rex and Crew Wakley. While cornerback Jakob Robinson caught up to Taylor, he didn’t prevent the tight end from reaching the end zone on what marked the longest reception of his college career and the first one for 30-plus yards at WVU.

“I hadn’t had a catch all game and there were a couple things on my end I’d missed to not get a catch. Anything within the 5, I have a chance to score,” Taylor said. “That was just kind of willpower. I really wanted to score on that one. That was really good play design.”

Taylor’s average of 12.2 yards per reception prove that the Mountaineers are using him as a downfield threat just as much as an intermediate one.

Taylor is a logical target on downfield throws because of his stature, and while he doesn’t possess the speed of wideouts, the tight end has proven his worth in the open field.

“He had a great run after catch on the touchdown,” Brown said. “He mistimed his jump on the first downfield throw we had on the opening drive. Garrett threw a nice ball and Kole kind of mistimed his jump for it. There are things he has to continue to work on. He has to play big sometimes in the pass game. He’s improving in the run game. 

“He has to hold his lines, but we’re going to continue to get him the ball. He’s a matchup problem and has great ball skills. Some of the things we’re doing in the run game leads to tight ends having success.”

In what would likely be considered his productive outing to date in a WVU uniform at Houston, Taylor displayed his athleticism by leaping over a Houston defender following one of his five receptions in a game he ended with 62 receiving yards.

“As a bigger guy, a lot of people are going to try and go low,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of an instinct thing. It’s not something I want to do every play or anything.“

Taylor’s next challenge comes Saturday against the Sooners when he will look to build on recent solid play away from home. Taylor has 13 receptions for 139 yards in four road games, including nine grabs 88 yards over the last two away games. However, all three of his touchdown catches have come at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“It’s definitely flown by. To think we’re three quarters of the way done with the season already is kind of mind-blowing,” Taylor said. “We’re not settling on anything. Each week is a different defense so we have to be prepared for a lot of different things. We have to keep progressing and hitting the easy plays because we’re still leaving a lot of yards out there.”

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