COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- After Ohio State lost Maurice Clarett, Chris Gamble made sure the Buckeyes did not lose the game.
Gamble helped fourth-ranked Ohio State overcome Clarett's absence and remain unbeaten with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown that keyed a 13-7 Big Ten Conference victory over No. 17 Penn State.
Clarett, the freshman sensation running back that has thrust Ohio State into the national championship picture, had four carries for 39 yards that put him over 1,000 yards this season before suffering a left shoulder injury in the first quarter.
Without Clarett, the offense struggled, managing just a pair of scoring drives that resulted in field goals. But Gamble, a two-way player who was on the field for nearly every snap, found a way to score on defense.
Early in the third quarter, Penn State quarterback Zack Mills rolled out left on a 3rd-and-long. His weak, wobbly pass was intercepted by Gamble, who raced toward the right sideline.
At the 10, the sophomore zigzagged past a potential tackler and into the end zone, giving OSU a 10-7 lead. It was his team-leading third interception this season.
"I was in cover three and I had played the half of the field," Gamble said. "I saw him roll to the left and one guy was running the post and the other guy was running the wheel (route). I looked into Zack Mills' eyes, I saw him throw the ball to the wheel and I just attacked."
"The interception for a touchdown was just a terrible pass," Mills said. "I wasn't trying to force anything there."
Gamble had a ho-hum game on offense, catching one pass for a one-yard loss and running once for three yards. But in his first start on defense, he made the biggest play of the game.
"I just want to help the team in any situation I can," he said. "It just feels really good to get the win."
The Buckeyes (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten) harassed Mills into an awful game and remained one of eight unbeaten teams in Division I-A. They have trailed in five of those games, including this one.
"We've got a good, tough defense," Tressel said. "We've had a lot of good tests this year. Our defense has been tested and has been getting better."
The Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-3) fell to 0-6 at Columbus since joining the Big 10. All three of their losses this season have come to ranked teams, the first two in overtime.
Penn State was unable to ride the emotion of an appearance by Adam Taliaferro, a former Nittany Lion who suffered a serious neck injury making a tackle in a game here five years ago. Taliaferro cracked a vertebra in the base of his neck and was not expected to walk again, but was walking without assistance six months after the injury.
Mills completed 14-of-28 passes for a season-low 98 yards and a season-high three interceptions. He also took a sack and was unable to move Penn State in the second half.
"He just had one of those days," Lions coach Joe Paterno said. "I think Ohio State is a better defensive team than they were last year. ... I think it was a combination that they played very well and we just couldn't make the play."
The running game also stalled as Larry Johnson was held to a season-low 66 yards on 16 carries. Penn State managed just eight first downs, also a season low.
"We didn't execute," Johnson said. "Our offense was ridiculous."
Each team committed four turnovers, keeping scoring at a minimum. But Ohio State got two field goals from MIke Nugent, who has made 19 in a row.
"You need every point in a game like this," Tressel said. "I'm really proud of our guys for protecting Nugent and Andy Groom and for holding and snapping well. You have to win special teams to win games like these."
After Clarett's injury, Lydell Ross came on at tailback, and the Buckeyes drove deep into Lions territory. But Craig Krenzel fumbled as he approached the goal line on a scramble, and Penn State's Anwar Harris returned it 58 yards.
Mills was picked off by A.J. Hawk, but Penn State forced a punt before putting together its only scoring drive. Johnson capped an 80-yard march primarily on the ground with a five-yard TD run in the final minute of the first quarter.
An interception off a deflection by Will Smith set up Nugent's 37-yard field goal with 6:16 left in the second quarter. But Penn State's Chris Harrell forced a fumble that stalled the Buckeyes at the Lions 15 with 1:32 remaining in the first half.
After Gamble's TD, Ohio State forced a punt and embarked on a 14-play, 72-yard drive, resulting in another 37-yard kick by Nugent for a 13-7 lead with 1:05 left in the third period.
Krenzel was 13-of-20 for 112 yards and two interceptions.