Robinson, Syracuse put faith in new QB

Meet the Robinsons.

Greg Robinson is the third-year football coach at Syracuse University. He has only five wins in his first 23 games. He really, really, really needs his new quarterback to play well.

Jay Robinson was the football coach at Calvert Hall College High School (Md.). He groomed the new Syracuse quarterback, who didn't participate in organized football until ninth grade.

Andrew Robinson is the new Syracuse quarterback. He takes his responsibilities very seriously, which is why he plans to make Greg Robinson a happy man.

A 6-foot-3, 222-pound sophomore, Andrew Robinson was one of the coach's first big recruits at Syracuse two years ago.

"I don't look at it like his fate is tied to how I perform," Andrew said. "But some things make me a highly motivated person, and when people give me an opportunity, I don't like to let them down. He gave me a scholarship. I kind of want to do everything I can to repay him."

Hideous is way too kind a word to describe the Syracuse passing game in its first two years of attempting to execute Robinson's West Coast offense, though it actually improved last season. The Orange ranked 103rd out of 119 Division I-A teams in passing offense last season (157 yards per game) after ranking 105th out of 117 teams in 2005 (151 yards per game).

Passing efficiency? Please. Syracuse was 86th last year (113.29) and 115th in 2005 (88.19).

Third-down conversion percentage? Don't ask. Syracuse was 78th last year (36.4 percent) and dead-last in the country in 2005 (20.6 percent).

The bottom line for any offense is points, and Syracuse is one of only six schools to rank 100th or lower in scoring each of the past two seasons. The other five are Temple, Kent State, Mississippi, Duke and North Texas.

A weak offensive line has been the biggest problem. It didn't help that Greg Robinson spent the better part of two years trying to convert an option quarterback, Perry Patterson, into a pocket passer.

"It was a lot more adjusting for Perry than it will be for Andrew," the coach said. "Andrew is a pocket passer who can throw on the run."

Sophomore receiver Lavar Lobdell says there's a difference in catching passes from Andrew Robinson.

"His passes come out a little quicker," Lobdell said. "If you run a slow route, it's on you. He definitely gets the ball out to you. I'll say that."

Assuming the line improves -- several underclassmen are challenging for spots -- it's easy to see the offense making major strides. Sophomore Delone Carter and junior Curtis Brinkley form a talented running back duo, and the receiving corps is downright dangerous.

Senior wideout Taj Smith displayed electric playmaking ability before a broken collarbone ended his season in the fourth game. High-rising sophomore Mike Williams made several spectacular catches and became the first freshman to lead the Orange in receiving since Scott Schwedes in 1983. Those two are complemented by the likes of Lobdell and senior Rice Moss.

"Basically, I'm the point guard of the offense," Andrew said. "I distribute the rock to everybody and let them do their thing. The ball's in my court as far as getting the offense ready to go. That's what I plan on doing this year."

Andrew got some experience in relief of Patterson last year. In a season-ending 38-7 loss to Rutgers, he completed all three of his attempts for 20 yards and a touchdown and ran five times for 31 yards.

If his high school experience means anything, it won't take long for Andrew to establish himself as a leader. Jay Robinson remembers Andrew's first game at Calvert Hall. It was the fourth game of his sophomore season. The team's starting quarterback had sustained a thumb injury on the final play of the previous series. Jay was not aware of the injury and called a pass to start the next series. As soon as he realized his untested sophomore quarterback was going in, he changed the call to a run.

Andrew Robinson didn't like that.

"The kid grabbed me by the arm and said, 'No, no, no, let's throw the pass!' " Jay recalled. "I said, 'Oh, here we go.' But I'll be damned if his first play as a varsity quarterback wasn't a touchdown."

There was no more backup duty for Andrew, who capped his career with 2,560 yards passing and 12 touchdowns in his senior year. He added 613 yards rushing on 71 carries. By that time, he was signed at Syracuse. Wisconsin also was interested, and the man who recruited Andrew on the Badgers' behalf, offensive coordinator Brian White, now holds the same title at Syracuse.

It didn't take Greg Robinson long to offer Andrew a scholarship. The coach was reminded of a power-armed quarterback named Troy Aikman, who played at UCLA when Greg was the defensive line coach there.

Given Andrew's field presence, Greg was surprised to learn he hadn't played football until ninth grade.

"When I found out, I was like, 'Hmmm,' because I liked his poise," Greg Robinson said. "He has a good football sense to him. I really like him. He's pretty natural about how he learns and pretty intense about trying to get it right. The mind-set is, be the best you can be and get better for us. If he does, he'll be a good quarterback. I believe that."

Turns out Andrew's mother, Jane, had a pediatrician friend who recommended Andrew not play football until high school.

"I used to bug her all the time to play," Andrew said. "But I don't have any regrets. I didn't learn any bad habits. Obviously, your parents know what they're talking about.

"I guess we should listen to them more often than we do."

Joe Starkey covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.