As a player, Plummer is preparing to succeed Winfield. (He had the Buckeyes' only interception last Saturday, his second of the year, and Penn State didn't complete a pass against him.) His inner calm is perfectly suited to his position. "A corner is going to get beat; it's the nature of the position," he says, and in fact last year he yielded a touchdown to the Nittany Lions. "You just come back for more."
Winfield is the most talented member of the secondary. His nickname should be Papa, not Grandpa, because on Aug. 16 his longtime girlfriend, Ohio State senior Erniece Polk, gave birth to their first child, Antoine Duane Winfield Jr. In '96 Winfield played behind Springs and as the nickelback. A year ago he was a first-team All-America, and it was whispered that Winfield was a better cover corner last season than Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson of Michigan or North Carolina's celebrated Dre' Bly—cool dish that's impossible to prove but delicious to argue. Winfield had two interceptions in '97, led the Buckeyes with 100 tackles and was voted team MVP. "Nobody in the country was better," Cooper says.
"Winfield is one of the best corners I've ever seen," says Missouri's Berndt. "Ohio State is a very talented team, and he's their best player."
This is why it was such a shock when Nastasi beat Winfield on a deep go route in the third quarter of Saturday's game and caught a 37-yard pass from Thompson, which led to the Nittany Lions' only touchdown. In this case beat is a relative term. Winfield was with Nastasi but lost a battle for the ball. "Give him credit," Winfield said after the game. "He's on scholarship, too." Then he threw his head back and laughed.
The Buckeyes laughed in 1996 as well, when October mistakes were harmless. Then Springs fell down. In the secondary, it takes only one play to kill a season.