Defense does it for Ohio State, 13-7
COLUMBUS -- Chris Gamble began the game as Ohio State's first two-way starter in 39 years. He left with the record crowd chanting his name.
On a day when freshman running back Maurice Clarett missed most of the game with a shoulder injury, Gamble's performance was something to shout about.
The wide receiver made a stellar debut as a starting defensive back by returning an interception for a touchdown and preventing a score with a tackle in No. 4 Ohio State's 13-7 victory over No. 18 Penn State on Saturday.
''It feels good to get my name chanted by the crowd,'' the soft-spoken Gamble said after he was hailed by 105,103 at Ohio Stadium.
The victory helped the Buckeyes (9-0, 4-0) stay on course for the Big Ten title. They don't play Iowa (8-1, 5-0) this season, but they have the inside track to the Rose Bowl, since they have a better overall record.
''They're the best team we've played. It'd be close between them and Iowa,'' said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose team lost in overtime to the Hawkeyes. ''Do they play Iowa? That would be a pretty good game.''
Indeed it would. And if Penn State could have knocked off the Buckeyes, Iowa would have a clear path to Pasadena. But the Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-3) managed just five first downs and 179 total yards.
''We got licked,'' Paterno said.
Clarett, who missed a game earlier this season with a knee injury, hurt his left shoulder six plays into the game and did not return. He'd been averaging 140 yards a game and was off to another fast start Saturday, gaining 39 yards on four carries to give him 1,019 yards in just over seven games.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he was unsure of the nature or the severity of the injury.
''I can't tell you if it's a one-day thing or a five-day thing,'' he said.
Gamble picked up the slack by becoming the first Ohio State player since Paul Warfield in 1963 to start on both sides of the ball. Gamble entered the game as the Buckeyes' second-leading receiver, and lately he'd been called on more and more to help out the thin, inexperienced cornerbacks.
Before Saturday, he had played just five snaps on defense, with two interceptions.
With Ohio State trailing 7-3 early in the third quarter, Gamble picked off an underthrown floater by quarterback Zack Mills. Gamble raced down the right sideline, cut to the inside briefly and then sidestepped a tackler to slide into the end zone for a 40-yard score.
''I saw Zack Mills rolling to the left, the one dude running the post and the other dude running the wheel (pass route),'' Gamble said. ''I saw him throw it to the wheel, and I just attacked it.''
Gamble's other huge play came during the turnover-plagued first half. On third-and-goal from the Penn State 5, Buckeyes quarterback Craig Krenzel fumbled while trying to get the ball across the goal line. Anwar Phillips scooped up the ball at the 1 and raced 58 yards before Gamble brought him down.
''Chris Gamble's a great player, but he's a smart player,'' Tressel said. ''There's a lot of talented players in the world, but they all don't have a feel for the game. He's blessed with talent, and he pays close attention to what's going on the field.''
Ohio State's defense dominated for most of the second half. The Nittany Lions -- who had been averaging 37 points a game -- punted on their next four possessions after Gamble's interception return.
Penn State took over at its own 15 with 3:02 left after Andy Groom, who was averaging 49 yards a punt, boomed a 55-yarder.
Mills completed a 7-yard pass to Tony Johnson but was then sacked by Kenny Peterson for a 10-yard loss. After another 7-yard pass to Tony Johnson, Mills' pass for Bryant Johnson in the left flat was incomplete.
Bryant Johnson, Mills and Paterno -- who has been very critical of Big Ten officiating -- all protested that Johnson had been interfered with by Gamble, but the play stood, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock.
''I tapped him a little early and was relieved when there was no flag,'' Gamble said.
Penn State's Larry Johnson said, ''It shouldn't have come down to us hoping to have a pass interference called.''
Coming off a school-record 257 yards rushing a week ago in a rout of Northwestern, Johnson was limited to 66 yards on 16 carries.
Krenzel, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 112 yards, was intercepted twice. He added 39 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Mills, who had a school-record 418 yards of total offense a year ago in a 29-27 comeback win over Ohio State, struggled all day. He completed 14 of 28 passes for 98 yards and was picked off three times -- equaling his total in 199 pass attempts in the Lions' first seven games.