Boise State’s passing game shines as QBs finish first scrimmage with no interceptions

Boise State football coach Spencer Danielson got a good look at new quarterback Malachi Nelson on Saturday in the Broncos’ first scrimmage of spring camp, which was closed to fans and the media.

Nelson, a former five-star recruit, who spent last season at USC and transferred to Boise State in January, completed 7-of-10 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown on what Danielson said was an efficient day for all of the Broncos’ active quarterbacks. There wasn’t a single interception thrown, according to stats provided by Boise State.

“Taking care of the ball was a big part of it,” Danielson said. “Malachi did a good job today. He made some good decisions and some nice throws. CJ (Tiller) did some good stuff today, too.”

Nelson threw what Danielson called one of the most impressive passes of the day on a 5-yard touchdown pass wide receiver Latrell Caples caught in the back corner of the end zone.

Danielson said it’s not easy to get the full picture of what a quarterback can really do in a scrimmage where they’re not getting hit by the defense. He also said the staff found creative ways to test Nelson’s ability to lead the offense in high-pressure situations on Saturday.

“What are you going to be like when this stadium is packed?” Danielson asked. “We try to make it as close to a game as possible, so especially at the quarterback position, we get really good information from these scrimmages. Then it’s about where do we need to grow?”

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Colt Fulton, a lefty, who walked on at Boise State in 2021, went 11-for-19 for 108 yards and threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Austin Bolt. Bolt, a former standout from Borah High, broke his leg in the 2022 season opener at Oregon State and it took seven weeks before he was fully cleared to play last season.

Tiller, a redshirt freshman, led the offense in a game-like situation for the first time since he made the first start of his career against UCLA in the LA Bowl last December. Tiller completed 12-of-21 passes for 117 yards and an interception against the No. 10 ranked defense in the country and the Broncos lost, 35-22.

On Saturday, Tiller completed 5-of-9 passes for 63 yards and threw what Danielson called the best deep ball of the day on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Prince Strachan.

“CJ has done some good stuff this spring, and we’re excited about where he’s grown,” Danielson said.

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Danielson said he needs to see a lot more from all of the quarterbacks before naming a replacement for former starter Taylen Green, who transferred to Arkansas last December. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino named Green the Razorbacks’ starter on Tuesday.

Danielson hasn’t even seen his full allotment of quarterbacks take the field. Redshirt sophomore Maddux Madsen did not play in the scrimmage Saturday as he continues to recover from the knee surgery he had last November. But the Broncos’ skipper said he saw one important thing from the rest of the quarterbacks: growth.

“We are what we put on film right now,” Danielson said. “It’s not what you did last year or what you want to do this upcoming season or what you want to tweet about. It’s about where do we grow from scrimmage No. 1 to scrimmage No. 2?”

Saturday’s scrimmage counted as the Broncos’ ninth spring practice. They have six more, including another scrimmage on April 13 and the spring game on April 20.

Running backs Ashton Jeanty and Jambres Dubar — presumably this season’s top two backs — sat out on Saturday. There’s no indication of injury. It appears to have more to do with managing their workloads and keeping them healthy after Danielson said the team was going to be smart about Jeanty’s workload this spring.

Passing game

Strachan was the star of the Broncos’ passing game on Saturday. He gave Boise State fans a glimpse of what he can do last season with three catches for 128 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown, in a win over New Mexico. He showed Saturday that he’s still a deep threat.

The 6-foot-5, 212-pound native of the Bahamas, led Boise State’s receivers with four catches for 71 yards. He finished last season with 12 grabs for 274 yards and two touchdowns. Bolt added three catches for 37 yards, and Danielson praised the duo for their ability to put pressure on the defense with deep routes.

“You need to find ways to stress the defense at all levels,” Danielson said. “We have to put them in conflict. We have to have receivers where (defenses) have to show two over one (coverage).”

Caples finished the scrimmage with three catches for 16 yards, and Chase Penry added three catches for 31 yards. He transferred in from Colorado last year, but he was slowed by injuries for most of the season. Redshirt freshman tight end Matt Wagner hauled in four passes for 22 yards in the scrimmage.

Wilkey looking for a role

Former Rocky Mountain standout Troy Wilkey found the end zone on a 2-yard touchdown run. He finished the scrimmage with two carries for 10 yards.

Wilkey, a Meridian native, walked on at Boise State last year as a defensive back. He appeared in all 14 games last season, primarily on special teams, and had a 19-yard kickoff return in the Broncos’ win at San Diego State. He’s listed on the roster as a running back this season, and Danielson said Saturday that he also played wide receiver this week in practice.

“He’s that type of player,” Danielson said. “He’s growing and he just wants to help the team.”

Freshman Sire Gaines led the Broncos with 22 yards on six carries. Danielson said the 6-foot, 208-pound native of Perris, California, has already caught his eye.

“To see what he’s done to this point at practice No. 9, Sire Gaines is going to be a really good player for us,” Danielson said. “He’s not going to settle for anything but elite.”

Notes from the scrimmage

It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for the offense. The Broncos averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and went 2-for-13 on third downs. The offense was also penalized four times for 30 yards, while the defense was flagged three times for 45 yards.

Former Cal cornerback Jeremiah Earby came up with an impressive pass breakup on the closest thing the Broncos saw to an interception all game. Earby joined the team in January.

Former Butler Community College linebacker Udoka Ezeani was credited with two quarterback hurries, although the quarterbacks were off limits. Boise State defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said on Early Signing Day in December that Udoka (6-2, 208) had a chance to be the Broncos’ fastest linebacker this year, but he needed to gain weight. Edge rusher Jayden Virgin-Morgan and nose tackle Herbert Gums were both credited with one quarterback hurry.

Kicker Jonah Dalmas hit a 43-yard field goal. He already holds Boise State’s career field goal record with 80. He needs just four to break the Mountain West career record and 18 to set the NCAA mark, which former NC State kicker Christopher Dunn set in 2022 with the 97th field goal of his career.