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No obvious answers to Ohio State's offensive puzzle

Mistakes -- both mental and physical -- have hurt Urban Meyer's offense through five games. Khris Hale/Icon Sportswire

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- What's wrong with Ohio State's offense?

That's the burning question confounding hardcore Buckeyes observers, casual fans and even the players and coaches themselves through five weeks this season. Of course, "wrong" in this case is relative. The No. 1 team in the country is averaging 34.4 points and more than 452 yards per game this season, and many Big Ten teams -- five of whom scored one touchdown or less in Week 5 -- would love to have those problems.

Yet, Ohio State's offensive production can't help but feel disappointing. With such a dizzying array of skill and a veteran line, this unit was supposed to smash records, not sputter to six first-half points against Indiana last week or score only 20 points against Northern Illinois last month.

This offense doesn't look like the same one that roared through the postseason last year, despite returning most of the same faces.

"We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot a lot," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "Missed communication, missed blocks, things like that. It’s just killing us. When we execute properly, our offense is awesome."

Those mistakes nearly cost the Buckeyes the game Saturday at Indiana. They rolled up 517 yards but also turned the ball over three times, which is a growing concern. Maryland is the only Big Ten team that has committed more turnovers this season than Ohio State's 13. All the talent in the world doesn't help if you give the ball away.

"We're turning the ball over at an alarming rate, and at some point, that's going to bite you," head coach Urban Meyer said. "If guys lay it on the ground, we can't play them."

Ezekiel Elliott ran for a career-best 274 yards on Saturday, with touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards in the second half. That led to many saying that the Buckeyes should simply feed Elliott more and their issues would vanish.

But it's not like they've been ignoring their star tailback. Elliott had 50 total carries in the Northern Illinois and Hawaii games, and his longest run in those contests was 13 yards. Last week, he ran the ball 10 times on Ohio State's first 33 plays but managed just 3.1 yards per carry with those first-half opportunities.

Meyer said he went with a different blocking scheme in the second half, which helped spring Elliott loose.

"I think we were definitely overdue for a game like this, the O-line and I," Elliott said afterward. "Big plays are what is going to spark this team."

Big plays have been hard to come by in the passing game, as well. Meyer has settled on Cardale Jones as his starter, but Jones' big arm has been offset at times because the Buckeyes haven't fully replaced Devin Smith with another deep threat. Jones is averaging 8.2 yards per pass attempt this season, down from 9.9 yards per attempt during his postseason run last year. After Jones went 18-for-27 for 245 yards with a touchdown and an interception Saturday, Meyer labeled the performance "not awful."

And what about Braxton Miller? The former quarterback's spin-move touchdown in the opener at Virginia Tech created limitless visions of what he could do in his new H-back role. Instead, he's become mostly invisible, producing just 123 total yards in the four games since Week 1. Miller touched the ball only twice against Indiana, losing nine yards on the game's very first snap and running for 14 yards in the second half.

Meyer said he was "sick" about Miller's lack of involvement vs. the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes may have two guys who have finished in the top 5 of the Heisman Trophy voting in the past three years, but one (J.T. Barrett) is on the bench and the other (Miller) is a square peg for a round hole right now. Curtis Samuel only touched the ball once last week, too. I recall something Big Ten analyst Gerry DiNardo told me this summer: Ohio State might have the most talented two-deep and total roster in America. But it can only play 11 guys at a time, and there's only one ball.

The 11 on the field at any given time is still gifted enough to perform at an elite level. Roles need to be defined and turnovers must be eliminated. Decker suggested there's a mental component at play as well, evidenced by the team's slow starts. Ohio State is averaging just 13.6 points in the first halves of games and has put up more than 14 points before halftime only once this season, vs. Western Michigan.

"I think we need to have more of an edge to us," Decker said. "This time last year, when everybody was saying we weren’t good enough to play at a high level, that gave us a chip on our shoulder. I think we need that chip back."

The pieces are still all there. Can the Buckeyes solve the puzzle?

"I know you guys are waiting for it," receiver Michael Thomas said Saturday. "We’re waiting for it, too. We’re going to make it happen."