Bridges developing into a ‘shutdown’ cornerback
FARGO — It was a year ago at this time when Marquise Bridges was going into his sophomore season as one of those guys who maybe had a chance to help the team. He was down a ways on the North Dakota State cornerback depth chart after all.
With starters Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush not coming off the field very often, his contributions during the regular season were confined to a few plays here and there. In the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs, however, that all changed.
He went from nowhere to everywhere.
“Tremendous maturation,” said Bison cornerbacks coach Joe Klanderman. “He’s playing a lot faster, seeing pictures a lot more clearly and communicating better. It makes people around him more comfortable. I think last year he was more worried about his own business but now sees the global picture a lot better.”
He saw the global picture crystal clear in the semifinal victory over Sam Houston State. He had two interceptions and a pass breakup in the 55-13 win at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
“He was absolutely lights out in a position where he was kind of the third guy,” Klanderman said.
He may have saved the day in the championship victory over James Madison, a game in which Bridges and Josh Hayes both started for the injured Allison and Wimbush. Starting from near midfield and trailing 17-13 late in the third quarter, the Dukes had the momentum.
Two completions to receiver Riley Stapleton reached the Bison 20-yard line. But on second-and-10, Bridges picked off quarterback Bryan Schorr over the middle near the goal line and NDSU stalled the drive at the 3.
“Any pick is important in a game so I knew that was important,” Bridges said. “I was just thinking about the next play and that we have to finish this game because we’re not up by much.”
The closest the Dukes got after that was a desperation fourth-down pass that NDSU knocked down near the goal line with 58 seconds remaining.
Bridges has taken up in the offseason where he left off in those two playoff games. He’s solidified himself as a starting cornerback opposite Allison heading into the Sept. 1 season opener against Cal Poly.
“It did a lot for my confidence,” Bridges said of the playoff run. “Now I can help everybody else the same way I’ve been helped. Everything comes easier when you know what you’re doing and when you learn the plays. Everything slows down.”
His emergence along with the development of the sophomore Hayes also made it easier for the Bison coaches to switch Wimbush to safety. For Bridges, he’s come a long way from the player who switched from receiver to defensive back in the middle of his redshirt freshman year.
“I was pretty lost,” he said. “I got switched in the middle of the season and I didn’t get a fall camp to get into it. But the best thing to do is to compete and I was going to compete and try my hardest even though I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Klanderman calls defensive back a completely different skill set than a receiver. The movements are different. The mindset is different.
“He’s gone from a guy who we were comfortable with to a guy who can absolutely be a shutdown corner,” Klanderman said. “I think the evolution from being ‘a’ guy to being ‘the’ guy is what’s impressed me the most from the spring to the fall.”