OSU's Chris Gamble jukes on his way to the Buckeyes' only touchdown, following an interception.
COLUMBUS - For certain, fourth-ranked Ohio State looked better in previous weeks on offense than it did against 17th-ranked Penn State yesterday afternoon.
Of course, those weeks involved freshman-sensation tailback Maurice Clarett shouldering most of the load and carving his way through opposing defenses.
Without Clarett to lean on after he re-aggravated a shoulder injury early in the first half yesterday, the Buckeyes sputtered along offensively most of the way through the key Big Ten matchup. They even failed to generate an offensive touchdown.
Yet playing before a record crowd of 105,103 at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes remained undefeated and stayed in the national title hunt by pulling out a 13-7 victory over Penn State.
Two-way starter Chris Gamble had a lot to do with it, including scoring the Buckeyes' only touchdown on a pass interception.
“Our players played like crazy, our coaches prepared extremely hard and we adjusted well to the flow of the game,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said. “Things happen in tough football games; guys get hurt. People do things that maybe you didn't expect scheme-wise, and our coaches did an extraordinary job.
“Our defense was extraordinary and our special teams were pretty darn good. Offensively, I think we had the ball for over 37 minutes, which is quite a bit out of 60. It's just a great team win.”
OSU improved to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten heading into a meeting with Minnesota on Saturday. Penn State slipped to 5-3 and 2-3.
“It doesn't feel like we're 9-0,” OSU safety Mike Doss said. “We just have to keep practicing hard and working to keep getting better.”
Tressel said he wasn't sure about the severity of Clarett's injury that forced him to the sideline after landing on his shoulder when he was tackled on a nine-yard run. Before the injury he had rushed for 39 yards on four carries, including a 30-yard run.
Considering that Clarett's replacement, Lydell Ross, needed 21 carries for 40 yards to lead the team, it was clear the OSU ground game suffered.
A pair of 37-yard field goals by sophomore Mike Nugent and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Gamble comprised the Buckeyes' scoring.
Gamble is listed as a split end on OSU's roster. But he became a two-way starter this week when Tressel and his defensive coaches decided to insert the 6-2, 180-pound sophomore into the secondary after he intercepted a pass to secure a win over Wisconsin a week ago.
Gamble made good on defense when he stepped in front of an ill-advised Zack Mills pass and returned it 40 yards for a TD that gave OSU a 10-7 lead with 13:07 remaining in the third quarter.
Gamble's presence and contributions in the secondary were welcomed by OSU defenders.
“He made a play today and played all four quarters on both sides of the ball,” OSU safety Mike Doss said of Gamble. “I told him to keep playing hard and we need you to have heart out there.”
The Buckeyes held the Nittany Lions to their lowest point output of the season. Penn State, coming off a 49-0 victory over Northwestern, hadn't scored less than 24 this season. It was the first time they were shut out during the last three quarters in a game this season.
Furthermore, Ohio State held Penn State to 81 yards rushing, and A.J. Hawk and Will Smith also picked off passes thrown by Mills, who completed 14 of 28 attempts for just 98 yards.
“We couldn't make a play when we had to,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “We couldn't come up with a catch or Zack was a little off. A couple of times we had some running room and we got tripped up.
“It was a lot of little things and that is a good football team. Ohio State is a very good defensive football team.”
Andy Groom also came through. He punted five times for an average of 48.6 yards, with a long of 59 that came while kicking out of the end zone late in the game.