Scott Slant Wednesday Weekly: Emergence of the Broncos’ Eric McAlister

There have been lots of surprises on the Boise State offense, do you think? Eric McAlister as the Broncos’ unquestioned go-to receiver is one of them. The sophomore had a game for the ages last Saturday in the 35-27 comeback win over San Jose State, making five catches for 170 yards with an 83-yard touchdown, averaging 34 yards per reception. Through six games, McAlister now has 30 grabs for 596 yards and four TDs, averaging just under 20 yards per catch. At this point last year, he had one for 44, fresh off his first career catch at Air Force. All told in 2022, McAlister had only 11 grabs, albeit for 259 yards and 23.5 yards per catch. The overriding theme, of course, is McAlister can get open deep. And there are two Boise State quarterbacks to try to find him.


You surely know what the question of the week is for the Boise State defense. Which one will show up at Colorado State Saturday? The first half version against San Jose State—or the second half version? Things were looking good for the D after Andrew Simpson sacked Chevan Cordeiro for a 12-yard loss on the Spartans’ first possession. Then it all went south. Tackling worse than anything you’ve seen to date. Wide open receivers. SJSU points on five straight possessions. But after halftime, the Broncos looked like last year, holding the Spartans to 110 yards, six first downs and zero points. They got pressure on Cordeiro, stops on third and fourth down, and a clutch game-sealing interception by A’Marion McCoy (as his did in the stands ripped off his McCoy jersey and holding it up for all to see).


Yes, Boise State’s two-quarterback plan will be in force Saturday night in Fort Collins. But unlike last week, Taylen Green has been designated the starter and Maddux Madsen the spot reliever. It was confusing last week, but in the end, it worked. Green had the edge in rushing and Madsen in passing, but each QB did both. That’s where offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan’s play-calling came in. The quarterback draws he called for both players were golden—Madsen scored on one right before the half, and Green took one in to give the Broncos their first lead. And he sent Riley Smith out of the fullback spot in the Clydesdale package to gather in the final TD. Hamdan also milked the clock on that drive. The Broncos took possession with 10:43 left and Smith scored with just 3½ minutes remaining.


If Green was still a redshirt freshman, he and Madsen could have shared this award after what happened last Saturday. But Madsen got the honor as Mountain West Freshman of the Week after being one of the keys for Boise State versus San Jose State. His 83-yard touchdown pass to McAlister was the second-longest in the conference this year, and his 39 rushing yards were huge, including that eight-yard TD right before halftime. Also, punter James Ferguson-Reynolds was the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week. The sophomore Aussie averaged 53.7 yards on his three punts, with one of them going 71 yards, the longest in the conference this year. JFR has retaken the national FBS lead in punting at 50.3 yards per boot for the season.


If you left the game at halftime last week with San Jose State leading 27-14, you missed a heckuva second half. But not just because the Broncos rallied all the way back from a 20-point deficit in the second quarter. The atmosphere was something else. They announced the crowd as 37,491, the second-largest in Albertsons Stadium history. That’s “tickets distributed,” but it was close to that in actuality. And truth be told, not as many left at halftime as you’d expect. The noise was way up there, as the crowd all but willed the Boise State defense to play well. And it was the first time the program was able to show off the new LED lights after dark, blue hue and all. The show got great reviews. Plus, there’s never been a louder Broncos football version of Garth Brooks’ “Friends In Low Places.” The place is very different these days.


Jon Wilner’s Mountain West Power Rankings, a respected list in the San Jose Mercury News, has Boise State staying at No. 4 this week. And Wilner points this out about Colorado State, which he has at No. 6: “In case there was any doubt, CSU is dead last in the country in penalties per game (9.6) and nobody’s close. At their current pace, the Rams will finish the season with 115 yellow flags. That takes skill.” The latest Game of the Year in the conference is Wyoming at Air Force Saturday. Wilner has them Nos. 1 and 2 this week after the Cowboys took down undefeated Fresno State last week, but he writes: “Perhaps it was Machiavelli, or maybe Nietzsche or Spinoza. But we’re pretty sure someone once scripted the following dictum: ‘He who deposes the king shall become the king … until encountering the triple option on hostile ground.’”


Injury status—as far as we know this morning. Here, we still wonder if senior George Holani will ever play for Boise State again. Hate to see Holani, who’s about to miss his sixth straight game, as the forgotten man. As Colorado State preps for the Broncos, the Rams wonder about the status of their two best players, Tory Horton and Mohammed Kamara, both injured in the loss at Utah State last Saturday. Horton is the nation’s third-leading receiver, and Kamara tops the country in sacks. And in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys plan to place former Boise State star Leighton Vander Esch on injured reserve this week after he hurt his neck on Sunday Night Football against the 49ers. The Cowboys hope LVE can return later this season.


It’s feeling a lot like 1993 on the Idaho campus. The juggernaut Vandals have Moscow buzzing with a 5-1 record and a No. 3 ranking in the FCS Coaches Poll after a 42-14 waxing of Cal Poly last week in San Luis Obispo. And now it’s the biggest game of the year, as Idaho and Montana battle Saturday for the Little Brown Stein, the trophy in the rivalry that dates back to 1938. The Grizzlies are looking to avenge the 30-23 loss to the Vandals last year in Missoula, but it’s hard to argue that the Vandals aren’t the better team. This will be the Kibbie Dome’s second-ever appearance on ESPN2—the first was the last Broncos-Vandals game back in 2010. This is also only the second home game of the season for Idaho.


College of Idaho skipped the bus and flew down to Arizona Christian last week—and the Coyotes pasted the newest member of the Frontier Conference 56-17 in a rare night game. It’s hard to specify any one standout, as the Yotes’ eight touchdowns were scored by eight different players, and the offense rolled up exactly 237 yards rushing and 237 yards passing. C of I, at 5-1 overall and 3-1 in league, remains a half-game behind Carroll College in the Frontier standings going into Saturday’s game against MSU-Northern at Simplot Stadium. This has all the markings of a one-sided affair. The 1-4 Lights have scored only 40 points all season. A win would secure another winning season for the Yotes.


No sooner do the Idaho Steelheads open training camp than they jump into their traditional one-weekend exhibition season against the Utah Grizzlies. But this time, the first matchup will have a regular-season feel, as the two teams play the first professional hockey game at the relatively new Mountain America Center in Idaho Falls. (That’s where Boise State men’s hoops plays a neutral-court game against Saint Mary’s in December.) The second game Saturday night will be the Steelies’ annual season-ticket-holders-only game in Idaho Central Arena. Some players on the Steelheads roster are in training camp with the AHL’s Texas Stars, but even so, there are so many familiar faces on this squad that it’ll be a cohesive group right out of the gate.


The PGA Tour’s fall season has served as a second chance for Troy Merritt after his struggles through the spring and summer. The former Boise State star has taken advantage of it, tying for ninth at the Sanderson Farms Championship and closing with a four-under 68 last Sunday in Jackson, MS. Merritt is up to No. 115 in FedExCup standings—he needs to stay in the top 125 at the end of the fall slate five weeks from now. He tees off Thursday in the Shriners Childrens Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.

This Day In Sports…brought to you by VETERANS PLUMBING…we care about your water!

October 11, 2014: Mississippi State beats Auburn, 38-23, the Bulldogs’ third straight win over a Top 10 team, to improve to 6-0. The following day, MSU would vault to No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches Polls, marking the fastest rise to the top ever in college football. The Bulldogs were the first team in the AP Poll’s 78-year history to go from unranked to No. 1 in five weeks. The previous mark was six weeks by Ohio State in 1954. Mississippi State’s rival, Ole Miss, was also 6-0 and was No. 3 on both lists. The Rebels had opened the season with a 35-13 win over Boise State at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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