LINCOLN, Neb. -- Speeding through creases in a defense isn't enough for Taylor Martinez. He needs speedy bandwidth, too. And numbers. And puzzles.
On the low-key nights in Lincoln, and there are many, the Nebraska quarterback might mess with the stock market or create iPhone apps.
His latest concoction is a free app called Follow the Pattern, which he describes as a board game on your phone for competing against friends. The game slightly resembles the Simon board game with blocks colored red, green, yellow and blue.
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He used to sell his game for 99 cents, but i''s currently free while he tweaks it.
"I like to work out puzzles in my head,” said Martinez, who declined comment on how much money he has made off apps. "There's not much to do in Nebraska, so you just start thinking of ways to make money."
That's for the off-season, though. Otherwise, Martinez is done playing games, tired of Nebraska's late-season struggles that have camouflaged otherwise solid results in Martinez's three seasons as starter.
A late-November surge has to happen this year, as Martinez sees it. This is Nebraska. And for parts of the past three seasons, Nebraska has played like its own self. But the Cornhuskers are a combined 3-6 in the last three games of the last three seasons.
"Championship, pretty much, or bust -- every time," Martinez said of the Nebraska pressure cooker.
Martinez has guided Nebraska to at least nine wins in each of the last three years. He has poured a combined 9,449 yards on opponents, easily a school record, along with 77 touchdowns. Nebraska has been ranked in all but a few weeks with the durable Martinez in the lineup.
Several 50-plus-yard runs have helped Martinez create a sizable YouTube highlight file. And Martinez said he has maintained a good relationship with Bo Pelini despite the head coach's sideline blow-up on Martinez during a 2010 loss to Texas A&M. Martinez said Pelini "reminds me so much of my dad," Casey, who coached him out of Corona, Calif. He knows when to push him, when to sit back and observe.
But, eventually, the narrative shifted from Martinez's "next big thing" status in 2010 to regression in his passing numbers (a career-low 56.3 completion percentage in 2011) and an unorthodox delivery.
Martinez upped his completion rate to 62 percent last year. When assessing his career, however, there's no denying this stat line: 91-of-168 passing for 1,048 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in his eight games played during that 3-6 clip, including 324 yards and zero rushing scores.
Last year's curious 70-31 Big Ten Championship Game loss to Wisconsin is difficult to explain. The Cornhuskers were simply bad in every area.
What's harder to explain to Martinez: why he's still without a conference title.
“We start off really strong, but in the end we can't finish off a championship,” Martinez said. “It's very disappointing. We've gotta be able to finish.”
Starting for three years at a tradition-rich school leaves a player's development open for mass dissection. Perhaps a portion of Nebraska faithful still wants Tom Osborne results. Pelini is working on it, and losses fall at his doorstep. But Martinez might as well be on the welcome mat next to him.
“When he does good, he's up for the Heisman,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said about the expectations on Martinez. “When he does bad, he's the worst quarterback in modern times.”
Martinez knows he can shift the focus once again. He's working with quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun this offseason and plans to improve his accuracy.
Martinez can't fix a defense that gave up 115 points and more than 1,200 yards in its last two games. The Cornhuskers replace several defensive starters, which might not be a bad thing.
Pelini has stockpiled defensive linemen the last two years. Freshman, senior, walk-on -- it seems any defensive player can win a job in Lincoln this spring if they maximize their potential.
It's time for those recruiting classes to produce.
Martinez said the defense will improve next year, and he's pushing every teammate that a repeat “lackadaisical” late-season performance is inexcusable.
“More film study,” Martinez said when asked what will cure Nebraska's ails. “We get lackadaisical at the end. ... Sometimes maybe some people come in overconfident in a game knowing we can beat this team.”
Is Martinez an NFL quarterback? Yes, he believes he is, assuming he refines his mechanics.
Before last season, Martinez was compensating for a high ankle sprain by throwing off his back foot, using his arm to generate power instead of his lower body.
He improved in that area last season, but he still threw 12 interceptions.
Entering a third season as NU's coordinator, Beck said he trusts his quarterback with making changes at the line and commanding the offense. Toughness isn't a problem for Martinez, Beck said -- neither is arm strength. Now he needs to discover when to trust the arm.
“I think he's better than a lot of people think,” Beck said. “As far as playing the game and knowing when the blitz is coming, calling the plays, making the necessary throws, toughness -- he took some shots last year -- he's got everything you can ask for. Now it's about, when he's having success and confidence, he thinks, ‘Oh, I can drop the ball in there.' That can get him in trouble. It's like, ‘Hey, listen. I know you think you can drop that in there, but this other guy is open.' ”
One example that Beck gives is a go route, which is often a pre-determined read for quarterbacks and can lead to turnovers without surveying the whole field.
Martinez will work to fix that. From mechanics to expectations, Martinez has had to adapt quickly his entire career.
Red reminders of Nebraska's back-to-back national titles in 1994-95 are emblazoned throughout the Osborne Athletic Complex. Martinez, 22, is too young to remember those heady days, but he can feel them after walking these hallways for years.
That's partly why losing two conference title games in three years fuels him.
“We're going to work hard to get back to where we were,” Martinez said.