Former five-star recruits at QB and receiver look impressive in Boise State’s spring game

The energy in Albertsons Stadium was palpable Saturday for Boise State’s annual spring game.

Parking lots around the stadium were full two hours before kick-off. Smoke and tailgate chatter drifted toward the Boise foothills, and fans filled much of the stadium’s lower bowl.

An offseason that saw the addition of two former five-star recruits to a roster full of returning starters; the return of a noted football mind as offensive coordinator; and the reality that the College Football Playoff expansion has arrived, meaning a real opportunity to compete at the highest level, has created an air of optimism around the Broncos that probably hasn’t been felt since 2015 – the season after the most recent win over Boise State in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

The playoffs will expand to twelve teams this year, and the top five ranked conference champions will automatically earn spots. Boise State won its fifth Mountain West title in program history last season, and odds are the Broncos will be the preseason favorites to repeat as champions.

Boise State coach Spencer Danielson called the expectations a “good weight” that everyone in the building feels. He also said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Expectations are through the roof, and that’s what you love about this place,” Danielson said after the spring game. “We are the winningest football team since the turn of the century. That doesn’t just happen. That means outsmarting people and finding the right players and coaches.”

During Boise State’s spring game on Saturday, Koetter analyzes the unusual quarterback competition

Many of the 7,137 fans in attendance were in the stadium Saturday to catch a glimpse of what could become Boise State’s next dynamic duo: quarterback Malachi Nelson and wide receiver Chris Marshall.

Both were five-star recruits coming out of high school, and both joined the Broncos in January. Nelson, who threw 105 touchdown passes during his career at Los Alamitos High in California, spent last season at USC.

Marshall was the No. 3 wide receiver in the class of 2022 and the No. 1 junior college transfer in the country this year, according to 247Sports. He transferred from Kilgore College in Texas, where he had 449 yards and five touchdowns last year.

Fans didn’t have to wait long to see them grab a scoop. Nelson took the field on the second series of the game and his first pass of the day went to Marshall for 16 yards. Marshall finished the game with three catches for 35 yards, all in the first half.

“He’s worked hard this season,” wide receiver Prince Strachan, who finished the game with two catches for 48 yards, said of Marshall. ‘He was locked in the conference room and learned the script. He has been a great asset.”

Boise State University wide receiver Chris Marshall makes a catch during the Broncos' spring game Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.  He finished the game with three catches for 35 yards.Boise State University wide receiver Chris Marshall makes a catch during the Broncos' spring game Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.  He finished the game with three catches for 35 yards.

Boise State University wide receiver Chris Marshall makes a catch during the Broncos’ spring game Saturday at Albertsons Stadium. He finished the game with three catches for 35 yards.

Fans got their first look at Nelson’s powerful, accurate arm on Saturday. He made accurate passes to Latrell Caples (4 catches, 40 yards) and Strachan in the first half despite tight coverage. Strachan’s catch covered 32 yards and set up a rushing touchdown for Ashton Jeanty, last season’s Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year.

Nelson’s most impressive throw of the day was a 32-yard touchdown pass to former Colorado wide receiver Chase Penry (2 catches, 35 yards). He was bracketed by defenders, but Nelson delivered a perfect pass that Penry swept in without breaking the stride.

That was one of several throws Nelson made Saturday that ranked quite high on the difficulty scale.

“He can make all the throws,” Danielson said. “Now there are a lot of other aspects of playing the quarterback position growing. As for fully understanding the offense, he’s done a really good job so far, but obviously there are still steps to be taken.

Nelson led the four quarterbacks who played Saturday, completing 9 of 16 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. He was also the only quarterback not to be sacked.

Walk-on Colt Fulton finished the game 7-for-12 for 50 yards, while former Skyview standout Max Cutforth finished 2-for-6 for 19 yards. Redshirt freshman CJ Tiller, who was forced to start in the LA Bowl last December, completed 3 of 9 passes for 17 yards and an interception, with linebacker Gabe Hunter returning 33 yards.

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The Broncos are looking for a replacement for former starting quarterback Taylen Green, who transferred to Arkansas last December and won the starting job for the Razorbacks.

It’s clear that Nelson has a leg up on the competition as spring training comes to a close, but the battle won’t be decided until fall camp in August because his biggest competition hasn’t been on the field much.

Redshirt freshman Maddux Madsen has been limited to individual drills and 7-on-7 sessions this spring as he recovers from surgery in November to repair a torn MCL and PCL in his right knee. He is expected to be cleared to play in August, but it could be Nelson’s job to lose.

“Where he is today after the spring game where he was in the first practice, there has been a lot of growth and development,” Danielson said of Nelson. “He wasn’t perfect today, but he made some good throws and he did a really good job of escaping the pocket and using his feet.”

Saturday’s scrimmage featured a non-traditional scoring system that awarded points for things like sacks, three-and-outs, turnovers and explosive plays, as well as touchdowns and field goals.

The defense won by a score of 47-29 after five sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Linebacker Jake Ripp and defensive tackle Michael Madrie led the defense with four tackles each.