The "clown show" has come a long way for Ohio State in three years. Far enough, that is, to let the Buckeyes lay claim to being one of the elite offensive circus troupes in college football this season.

The "clown show" has come a long way for Ohio State in three years. Far enough, that is, to let the Buckeyes lay claim to being one of the elite offensive circus troupes in college football this season.

Coach Urban Meyer called the passing game a "clown show" when he first opened for business at Ohio State in 2012, and he was referring primarily to the play of the wide-receiver corps. But those fellows performed more like trapeze artists and tightrope walkers on Thursday in helping the Buckeyes upset Alabama 42-35 and earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff championship game on Jan.12 against Oregon.

>> Got a question about Ohio State sports? Ask the experts!

>> Follow @buckeyextra on Twitter, because it's the right thing to do

"We're one of the best, if not the best, wide-receiver groups in the country," senior Devin Smith said. "We take pride in that. We work extremely hard at that."

And after hearing all of the pregame buildup concerning Alabama's celebrated Amari Cooper, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver, and the Crimson Tide's passing offense, Smith said the OSU receiver group, otherwise known as "zone6", went in "with a chip on our shoulder."

"We wanted to expose their defense a little bit," Smith said, "and I think we did a pretty good job with that."

It got so crazy that one receiver, senior Evan Spencer, threw a touchdown pass to another receiver, sophomore Michael Thomas, who made a twisting catch and toe tap to gain the score. Spencer even delivered the key block on the game's climactic play, the 85-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott late in the fourth quarter.

"I was just going to go in there and cause as much havoc as possible," Spencer said of his big block. "I saw the guy wasn't looking and I had a good shot, a good head of steam, and I was just going to go clean up anybody I could. And the fact that I got two of them and I heard the crowd roaring, it was the best feeling in the world."

That's not typical wide-receiver behavior, but as third-year receivers coach Zach Smith tweeted after the game, his corps "Walks the walk. ... Talkers need not apply. I love these boys and am the luckiest coach in the country!"

Spencer added: "Everybody in our room is committed to helping this team win in any way we can."

That's helps explain why Devin Smith, known for being a catcher of touchdowns (12 of his 32 catches this season have been for TDs, including a 47-yarder against Alabama), has become one of the key players on the punt team. He's the "sniper" whose job it is to streak downfield and down Cameron Johnston's punts when given the chance and, when not, to be the first man to hit the returner.

It also helps explain why backup receiver Corey Smith drew rave reviews for his missile-like tackles on kickoff coverage against the Crimson Tide.

"I want to help any way I can," he said.

Then there is Jalin Marshall. He goes by the moniker hybrid back, and at the moment he also is the backup quarterback. But he's part of the receiver group, whose threads seem to run through the whole fabric of the team.

"We have a lot of weapons on offense, we're hard to stop," Marshall said. "Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Ezekiel Elliott, Corey Smith, Evan Spencer, you can name them all - Cardale Jones.

"We have a resilient team. That's been the word of the year: resilience. We've battled through adversity. I mean, we lost two starting quarterbacks, but we battled through that. There's a brotherhood of trust on this team. Every time adversity hit, we got closer, and it has paid off."

The attitude in the receivers' room, Thomas said, is find a way to make a difference, and don't blow an opportunity when it presents itself. Like on his acrobatic touchdown catch.

"When I got the opportunity and I noticed that it was (man-to-man coverage), I knew I was going to have to make a play on the ball so we could convert and get some points in the red zone," said Thomas, who led the team with seven catches.

There was nothing clown-like about his performance, which spoke not only for the receivers, but also for the team as a whole, Thomas said.

"Everybody has their opinions; they always doubt us," Thomas said. "But we're like a family in here. We have each other's back, and we stick together. As far as us receivers, we handle business, and we know how to respond under pressure."

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports