MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Don’t look now, but West Virginia’s tight ends are doing more than just blocking.
It was alluded to this offseason that Dana Holgorsen and Jake Spavital would be using pass-catching tight ends more frequently, especially after noting the development of Trevon Wesco and Jovanni Haskins this offseason.
Now it's beyond just speculating, as stats for Holgorsen and Co. are showing proof that the tight ends have become a valuable asset to the Mountaineers.
Since Holgorsen came on board in 2012, West Virginia tight ends have caught just 37 passes for 242 yards, scoring five times coming into 2018. This year alone, tight ends have caught 24 passes for 262 yards and a score. Those aren’t blow-you-away numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s progress.
“It makes us more multiple, and it makes us harder to defend,” Holgorsen said of the expanded use of Wesco and Haskins. “I don’t care which of our five skill guys that are on the field at any one time, any of them can get the ball.”
What makes it even better to look at, though, is how efficient Wesco and Haskins have been as a duo.
West Virginia quarterbacks have completed 24 of 27 passes to the tandem, an 88.8 percent clip. And in the past two games? Tight ends have caught all 13 passes for 133 yards for West Virginia. Neither Wesco nor Haskins has dropped a pass since the Kansas game.
It’s taken time to develop this, though.
For Wesco, it began with blocking. Coaches made it clear that if he was a liability blocking, then he wouldn’t see the field as much. He took that to heart.
“I really had to buy into blocking. It's like I tell everybody, nobody wants to block. Everybody wants to catch touchdowns,” Wesco said earlier this season. “Since I bought into blocking, it's been easy for me to block. (Tight ends/fullback coach Dan Gerberry) puts it into my head every day that I need to go out there and be the most physical player that I can be, and that's just what I try to do.”
Since, Wesco has caught the attention of offensive coaches across the board, including Holgorsen. The head coach said he couldn’t heap enough praise on the senior from Inwood, W.Va.
“I could talk about Wesco for the remainder of this press conference,” Holgorsen said early into his weekly meetup with the media Tuesday. “He’s one of the six guys that are in the box that does a good job. This dude is blocking as well as I’ve seen a tight end block at this level, he's really doing that good of a job.”
That effort showed against Texas, Holgorsen said.
“There were a couple of times that Wesco came down and hit the defensive end and wiped him out, so the tackle was just sitting there going, ‘I don’t have anything to do,’ because Wesco is playing so well, honestly,” the coach said. “Just watch the video.”
The ability to be a consistent blocker has led to more pass-catching opportunities, too. Wesco has caught 13 passes for 166 yards this season. Coming into 2018, he had just two catches for 7 yards and a touchdown.
Haskins, meanwhile, is viewed as a catch-first tight end. He scored the lone touchdown from the unit this season and has 11 catches for 96 yards this year.
“He’s a big target. You guys see him out there, he causes a lot of matchup problems, and his catch radius is very comforting for Will (Grier) to throw to,” Spavital said. “You put him on these underneath routes, intermediate routes where he doesn’t have to be as accurate with the ball.”
Haskins can split out wide and run routes, too, like most NFL teams with pass-catching tight ends show frequently.
“I think he’s very athletic at times. So, you’re going to see a lot of him in the pass game, but you can also utilize him in giving some of those receivers a break,” Spavital said. "We feel comfortable with where he’s at, and you don’t have to go to those four-wide receiver sets. That’s because he can act as a receiver out there.”
As the season winds down and teams continue to try to take certain receivers away, it’s unlikely that TCU, Oklahoma State or Oklahoma will be keying on either Wesco or Haskins. West Virginia has too many other weapons for that to happen. And, luckily for the Mountaineers, the tight end tandem has stepped up.
Holgorsen doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“The better they get,” he said, “the more we’ll use them.”
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