CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- Lydell Ross filled in admirably for freshman sensation Maurice Clarett, but Ohio State barely survived against Cincinnati.
Quarterback Craig Krenzel scrambled six yards for a touchdown with 3:44 remaining and safety Will Allen intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final minute as the sixth-ranked Buckeyes held on for a 23-19 triumph over Cincinnati.
With Clarett recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, Ross carried 24 times for 130 yards. But the Bearcats (1-2) had a 19-17 lead and were driving midway through the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Gino Guidugli was sacked by defensive end Darrion Scott and fumbled, with defensive tackle David Thompson recovering at the Cincinnati 47 with just over eight minutes to play.
"Turnovers are everything," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "Scott's play sent electricity to our sideline and our fans."
Krenzel led the Buckeyes (4-0) to the go-ahead score, capping the 10-play drive by spinning away from two defenders and lunging across the goal line.
"We were hoping (Michael) Jenkins would have man-on-man coverage, but their cornerback had good coverage, so I just tried to make something happen," Krenzel said.
"That was an excellent effort, but the best part of that play was that he didn't force it into the end zone," Tressel added. "If we would have had a turnover in that situation, we would have been dead."
Guidugli, a sophomore, appeared set to engineer the fifth fourth-quarter comeback of his brief career. He marched the Bearcats from their own 20-yard line to the Ohio State 15 in the final minute before throwing three incompletions in the end zone.
On fourth down, Guidugli's pass was tipped and picked off by Allen, sealing the Buckeyes' 11th win in 13 games in the series.
"Linebacker (Matt Wilhelm) tipped it, but you know how coaches are. I thought their guy might catch it," Tressel said. "We're glad Allen was there."
The crowd of 66,319 at Paul Brown Stadium was the largest to watch a sporting event in Cincinnati.
"We take no solace in losing," Bearcats coach Rick Minter said. "We had a chance to win and didn't. You never, ever want to be satisfied with losing."
One of the reasons Cincinnati needed a touchdown on its final drive was a missed extra point in the first quarter by Groza Award winner Jonathan Ruffin, who had made 65 consecutive conversions.
The Bearcats had to settle for a 6-0 lead in the first quarter after DeMarco McCleskey scored on a one-yard run. McCleskey led Cincinnati on the ground with 69 yards on 13 carries.
A 44-yard field goal by Ruffin extended the Bearcats' advantage to 9-0 midway through the second quarter.
Ohio State finally got on the board 3 1/2 minutes later on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Krenzel to tight end Ben Hartsock. But Ruffin kicked a 49-yard field goal to send the Bearcats to the locker room with a 12-7 advantage.
Ohio State committed three turnovers and had a 96-yard kickoff return negated by a penalty in the first half.
But the Buckeyes took their first lead, 14-12, on a five-yard toss from Krenzel to Chris Vance with just over four minutes to go in the third quarter.
Cincinnati answered, moving back in front early in the fourth quarter on a five-yard touchdown pass from Guidugli to Tye Keith.
Guidugli completed 26-of-52 passes for 324 yards.
"It hurts. There is absolutely nothing good about a loss, nothing," he said. "I would have rather gotten blown out than lose like this. We can't take anything from this loss."
Krenzel was 14-of-29 for 129 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
"In this day and age in college football, a win is a win," Krenzel said. "We're excited and we're happy with our effort. We had guys make plays when it counted. But at the same time, we're disappointed. We had way too many mistakes. We almost beat ourselves."