With Boise State spring game Saturday, Koetter analyzes unusual quarterback competition

Boise State offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter didn’t know what to expect from the Broncos’ quarterbacks before spring practice began.

The most experienced of the bunch, redshirt sophomore Maddux Madsen, was limited to individual drills and 7-on-7 sessions because he’s still recovering from surgery to repair MCL and PCL tears in his right knee.

Redshirt freshman CJ Tiller’s only career start came under former offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan in the LA Bowl last December.

Koetter didn’t know much about the newest quarterback in the group, redshirt freshman Malachi Nelson, a former five-star recruit who spent last season at USC and transferred to Boise State in January. He’d never seen him throw a pass in person.

Koetter said Nelson has spent the better part of the spring swimming upstream while trying to learn the Broncos’ playbook and adjust to new terminology. Koetter also said Nelson has come a long way through 13 practices, and he’ll be watching the quarterback closely in the spring game Saturday afternoon at Albertsons Stadium.

“Everyone had this expectation for Malachi that he was going to come in here and set it on fire, and that’s tough for any quarterback, especially when they don’t know the terminology,” Koetter said. “He’s swimming in new terminology, but you can see his ability as a thrower. It shines through.”

Nelson has turned more than one head this spring with his powerful, accurate arm. He threw what Boise State head coach Spencer Danielson called the most impressive pass of the day on a short touchdown that wide receiver Latrell Caples caught in the Broncos’ first scrimmage of the year.

Nelson and the rest of the quarterbacks combined to complete 51 percent of their passes last weekend in the team’s second scrimmage.

“He can really spin it, and he can make throws from off-balance platforms, which can be a blessing at times and a curse at others,” Koetter said of Nelson. “ ... He just has to keep working to process things faster.”

Nelson’s talent was obvious at Los Alamitos High School in California, where he posted 7,984 passing yards and 110 total touchdowns (105 passing). It hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates at Boise State, either.

“He can throw it a mile and put it right where he wants it,” Caples said. “It’s exciting to see him grow in the offense.”

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The QB battle continues

Koetter said Tuesday that Nelson has come a long way, but he also said there’s plenty of work to be done before any quarterback is ready to replace former starter Taylen Green.

Green transferred to Arkansas last December. He was named the starter earlier this month and stole the show in the Razorbacks’ spring game on Saturday, with 257 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 30 rushing yards on just two carries.

“As we sit here today, none of them are playing good enough,” said Koetter, a former head coach at Boise State from 1998 to 2000, who was hired in February to replace Hamdan. “So that means I’m not coaching them good enough.”

Most people expected the Broncos’ starting quarterback job to be a two-man race between Nelson and Madsen. That very well may prove to be the case, but Koetter cautioned people not to forget about Tiller, a former three-star recruit from Rancho Cucamonga High in California.

Tiller struggled against a talented UCLA defense in the LA Bowl, finishing the game 12-for-21 for 117 yards and an interception. Koetter said Tiller’s focus this spring has been on being more consistent from play to play.

“He definitely has the talent to be the quarterback here,” Koetter said, “but sometimes he makes the hard plays and misses the easy ones.”

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Koetter said he can’t really evaluate Madsen’s growth without seeing him in live 11-on-11 drills, but he’s not concerned because he knows what “Mad Dog” can do on the field. Madsen appeared in one game during Koetter’s tenure as interim offensive coordinator in 2022. Last season, he played in nine games and finished with 1,191 passing yards, 11 total touchdowns and three interceptions.

“He’s bored out there right now,” Koetter said. “That’s a guy who has proved he can play at this level. He sees our offense struggling at times (in practice) and knows he can make it better, but he’s helpless.”

Madsen is expected to be fully cleared by the start of fall camp in August. The battle to be Boise State’s next starting quarterback won’t be settled until then, Koetter said.