When Duke and Wake Forest square off tomorrow in Durham, it will mark the first ACC game ever between two quarterbacks with more than 9,000 career passing yards. I saw that statistical tidbit the other day. It made me feel like a super-senior at a freshman rager, as I remember the first duel between Thaddeus Lewis and Riley Skinner just as vividly as I can recall the second and third. In the last three years, Wake Forest emerged as Duke’s secondary rival; all three games were nailbiters, with two coming down to the very last play.
But still, it’s the first game between Lewis and Skinner that’s most symbolically significant now. Back in 2006, Lewis and Skinner were not only freshmen, but freshmen who weren’t supposed to play much, let alone start in the second game of the season. Skinner became the first-teamer when Wake Forest’s Benjamin Mauk went down in the season opener, and Lewis took the position when Duke was blanked by Richmond at home. The Demon Deacons won that initial draw when kicker Joe Surgan missed a chip-shot field goal as time expired. It was a game that Duke should have won, and at the time, the differences between the two teams seemed minimal. The Blue Devils trudged along to an 0-12 season, and Wake Forest won the ACC.
Even before the game, though, Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe had seen something encouraging in Skinner — or, at the very least, he had to pretend he did to amplify his backup quarterback’s confidence:
Whoever head coach Ted Roof ends up going with as starting quarterback Saturday–Marcus Jones in his second career start or freshman Thaddeus Lewis in his first–Duke will still have a slight experience advantage at the position over the Demon Deacons.
“We feel absolutely confident in Riley Skinner’s ability–it’s just the game experience that he lacks,” head coach Jim Grobe said. “So that’s what we have to find out. I have a feeling he’s going to be fine. We just have to get out there and play.”
Duke players and coaches talked described Lewis with the same type of cautious optimism after his first career start, when merely putting Duke into a position to win was deemed an accomplishment:
Although it may be too early to call true freshman quarterback Thaddeus Lewis a great player, he exhibited traits in Saturday’s 14-13 loss to Wake Forest that transcend a coach’s teachings.
“The intangibles of playing quarterback-I think Thaddeus has those,” head coach Ted Roof said. “Of course, we’re talking about one game now and a true freshman, so he’s got a lot of improving to do and a lot of growing to do. But I think he’s got the capability within himself to do that.”
“He’s got something about him,” junior wideout Jomar Wright said. “You really can’t explain it-it’s just that ‘it’ factor you want to have in your quarterback, and he’s definitely got it.”
Four seasons and almost 20,000 combined yards later, no one’s talking about Lewis and Skinner as speculative projects anymore.