DURHAM — Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis measures his confidence on a scale that reads "through the roof." The senior is more comfortable in his role than at any time since arriving four years ago and becoming the Blue Devils' starter as a freshman.
"Thad is in a zone right now," Duke senior running back Re'quan Boyette said. "He's making all the right throws. Making all the right reads. Making all the right checks, getting us into the right protections."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound pocket passer from Opa Locka, Fla., has found nirvana in Duke's spread offense under head coach David Cutcliffe. It's clear that he has reached an elevated level as a passer, leading the Blue Devils (5-3, 3-1 ACC) on a three-game winning streak.
As the Devils prepare for Saturday's game against North Carolina, their quarterback is at the center of attention for his savvy, poise, accuracy and dependable right arm.
"Our guy, if you look at what he has done over the past four weeks, tell me a quarterback that has played better," Cutcliffe said after Lewis led the Devils in a come-from-behind win over Virginia on Saturday.
Lewis has steered Duke's offense to an average of 433.0 total yards and 33.8 points over the past five games. During that span, he's passed for an average of 347.5 yards per contest.
After throwing for 459 yards at N.C. State on Oct. 10, 371 yards against Maryland on Oct. 24 and 343 yards at Virginia, Lewis became the first player in school history to throw for over 2,000 yards in four straight seasons. Only two other players - N.C. State's Philip Rivers and Wake Forest's Riley Skinner - have equaled that feat in ACC history.
Lewis was limited by an ankle injury and H1N1 early in the season and missed much of training camp. He performed poorly and was even replaced for parts of games by freshman Sean Renfree at Army and Kansas.
He returned, however, with a desire to show his maturity and growth. Since the game against N.C. Central, he's demonstrated a deft touch combined with an accuracy that has him ranked second in passing yards in the conference and ninth in the nation.
He owns a 63.5 percent completion percentage, which ranks him second in the ACC behind Florida State's Christian Ponder and places him 31st nationally. He has a pass efficiency rating of 143.2.
"The numbers don't lie," said Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon, who has put up his own record-breaking figures this season in rising to the top of the freshman career receptions list.
Vernon caught a 42-yard pass from Lewis that swung the Virginia game in Duke's favor.
Lewis said he's more comfortable this season because it's the first time he's worked with the same offensive coordinator for two consecutive years.
"A lot of the credit can go to the offensive coordinator Kurt Roper knowing Thad's strengths," Duke junior tight end Brandon King said.
Lewis' improvisation in the pocket and keen understanding of the offense has produced points. This summer he learned to practice with a faster pace to simulate game speed. He committed to learning every detail.
"Consistency," Lewis said. "Making sure I can make all the throws all the time."
Cutcliffe, a longtime quarterback sage, said Lewis' vision and understanding of receiver's routes have made the difference. He can tell Lewis has tremendous confidence by the way he coolly delivers balls to empty areas where receivers are supposed to run to the ball.
"He's accurate with the ball," Cutcliffe said. "It's very difficult to rush him. Difficult to fool him."
On Tuesday, Lewis fielded questions with a sense of certitude. He wore a T-shirt, sweatpants and blue Nikes with pink strings. Dressed down, he laughed at his interception on Saturday, saying he looked at the clock with seven minutes remaining and knew he would make up for it.
"When you're comfortable in what you do, you're able to go out and execute," Lewis said.
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