Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense And What It Means For Texas

Brennan Marion With Texas
Image via @TexasFootball on Twitter

The biggest addition schematically to this team will be Brennan Marion’s Go-Go offense. However, Steve Sarkisian made a few changes to this coaching staff after his first season as the Longhorns head coach. Bringing in Tashard Choice, the aforementioned Brennan Marion, and Gary Patterson.

First, Sarkisian brought in Tashard Choice as the runningbacks coach to replace Stan Drayton. Drayton left for the Temple head coaching job after the season.

Next, Sarkisian let wide receivers coach Andre Coleman go after a disappointing recruiting cycle. Sarkisian then brought in Brennan Marion to replace him, one of the rising stars among coaches. Bringing along with him a new and exciting style of offense that Sark and the offensive staff can learn from.

Finally, Sarkisian brought on Gary Patterson to become an analyst. With his job title being: “special assistant to the head coach”. You can find our thoughts about his hiring here. Today we will be focusing on Brennan Marion and his offensive scheme.

Why is Brennan Marion’s Go-Go offense such a big deal? What is so special about his hire and why should Longhorn Nation be excited? Grab yourself your favorite beer, cocktail, or a cup of coffee and let’s get into it!

Brennan Marion’s History

To understand Brennan Marion’s Go-Go offense and Brennan Marion’s philosophy, it helps to understand where he came from. Knowing who taught him and where he established relationships will help us understand where he came up with the idea of this unique offense.

Brennan Marion’s Playing Career

Brennan Marion started his playing career at Foothill College, a community college in California. He then transferred to De Anza College, another community college in California for an expanded role as a receiver.

After a break out year at De Anza College, Marion would transfer to the University of Tulsa. While at Tulsa, Marion would meet the head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Who would both play a crucial role in getting Marion into coaching after his playing career.

Brennan Marion’s Coaching Career

Brennan Marion worked his way up at a remarkably fast pace. Becoming the head coach at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in 2013 at the age of 26. He would continue to bounce around and rise up the ranks until he caught his first big break.

In 2017 as Howard University’s (D1-FCS) offensive coordinator, Marion’s Go-Go offense helped propel the Bison to a win over 45-point favorites UNLV. Marion would stay at Howard University one more season before taking his Go-Go offense to William & Mary (D1-FCS) as their offensive coordinator.

Coach Marion would continue his rise and become the wide receivers coach for the University of Hawaii and Todd Graham for the 2020 season. Before again jumping to a better opportunity and landing at the University of Pittsburgh, where he again was the wide receivers coach.

There, Coach Marion would help Jordan Addison tally 107 touches for 1,649 yards and 18 touchdowns. Addison would also win the 2021 Biletnikoff trophy, awarded to the best wide receiver in the nation.

Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense

We mentioned the Go-Go offense before, but what exactly is so special about this offense? The Go-Go offense is based out of a two running back set— 20 or 21 personnel (2 running backs and 0 tight ends or 2 running backs and 1 tight end, respectively).

Unlike most 20 and 21 personnel teams, Marion’s offense does not use a fullback to block and a halfback to run, both running backs have the opportunity to block or get the ball.

Brennan Marion’s philosophy is to be a power run team that utilizes RPO’s (run/pass option plays) in the short passing game and stretches the defense down the field with a vertical passing game. Let’s break it all down below, step by step.

The Origin of the Go-Go Offense

The Origin of the Go-Go offense is from Brennan Marion, he created this scheme from nothing. However, the inspiration of the offense comes from Marion’s interest in triple-option teams and their ‘fool-proof’ methods of always being correct. Depending on what the defense was doing, the offense always had a counter to it built into the system.

Marion wanted to re-create that in the modern game. With another major influence coming from Gus Malzahn — who is known for his uptempo, spread/zone-read offense.

Malzahn used his athletic quarterbacks in zone read plays from spread formations often, putting three to four wide receivers on the field to stretch the defense thin before running the ball up the middle with his quarterback or running back. By going no-huddle, Malzahn would also force the defense to make quick decisions and adjustments without the luxury of getting substitutions.

Brennan Marion incorporates both of these philosophies in his own way.

By putting two true running backs on the field at the same time — who will be asked to be solid pass catchers and run blockers as well as great ball carriers — Marion keeps all of his options open as a play caller and also gives the quarterback options after the play begins with read-option and run/pass-option plays.

The Principles of the Go-Go Offense

The Go-Go offense has three basic principles from an outside view. Brennan Marion, I’m sure, has a much more elaborate explanation, but from what I’ve seen on film and from what I’ve learned through his coaching clinics and his book, there are three key attributes to this offense.

1.) Play With Selflessness

“How you play without the football determines how much you love your teammates”

— Brennan Marion, from his book “Go-Go Offense”

In the Go-Go offense, the star player will not always get the ball. That would defeat the purpose of having two running backs in the backfield. Similar to Phil Jackson’s famous “Triangle Offense” the ball should always go to the open man, while all of his teammates set him up for success in their own way.

If the defense is keying in on your superstar running back in the run game, the quarterback has to recognize it and get the ball to another playmaker or take it himself.

2.) Play Fast

“We want to play at an uptempo, two-minute pace at all times to create a ‘5th quarter’.”

— Brennan Marion, from his book “Go-Go Offense”

As the name would suggest, the Go-Go offense has to be fast paced. Creating an extra level of chaos for the defense. Thus giving the offense another upper-hand. By playing fast, Marion is also trying to give his offense more possessions.

Chip Kelly incorporates a similar strategy. Kelly also brought it to the NFL and it had some success, but it is a very popular strategy in college football to this day.

3.) Create Mismatches With Exotic Formations

“We want to stay multiple in our formations, to get favorable matchups and run our same plays”

— Brennan Marion, from his book “Go-Go Offense”

Giving the defense different formations than they are accustomed to seeing week-in and week-out creates yet another form of confusion for a defense. Moreover, creating that potential confusion causes mismatches and potential miscommunication.

Using different formations yet running the same plays also helps the offense. Instead of learning a multitude of plays to keep defenses guessing, the offense can learn less plays and run them out of these ‘exotic’ formations.

Go-Go Offense Formations

The way Brennan Marion aligns his running backs is also unique. While drawing inspiration from triple-option teams, Marion wanted to also keep his offense modern. By keeping his quarterback in shotgun while still pulling formations from triple-option style formations, Marion has seemingly found a modern twist to these historic formations.

Marion’s FAR/NEAR Formation

Typically putting his running backs side-by-side in a “FAR/NEAR” formation, commonly used in triple option offenses.

FAR formation is when the two running backs are on the opposite side of the formation as the tight end or slot receiver. Conversely, NEAR formation is when the two running backs are on the same side of the formation as the tight end or slot receiver.

Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual of Brennan Marion’s FAR formation in 20 personnel
Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual of Brennan Marion’s NEAR formation in 21 personnel

FAR and NEAR aren’t the only unique formations Coach Marion uses, but they are the staple formation of this offense.

Marion’s STACK Right/Left Formation

Brennan Marion also utilizes a “STACK” formation, either STACK right or STACK left. The STACK formation also has roots in triple option offenses.

Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual of Brennan Marion’s STACK Right formation in 21 personnel
Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual of Brennan Marion’s STACK Left formation in 20 personnel

Advantages To These Formations

There are many advantages to having both running backs on the same side of the formation. One of them being very simple, to give the defense a different look than they are accustomed to.

Another advantage is on every run or play action play, there are potentially two ball carriers to worry about. The quarterback will pivot to the side of the running backs and hand the ball off or keep it, leaving the defense with three legit possibilities of who actually has the football.

Typically on a play-action play, defenses will recognize the ball carrier doesn’t have the ball or that the quarterback has kept it, with two ball carriers on the same side going the same way defenses have to account for both ball carriers and the quarterback incase it is a delay handoff to the second running back.

That extra hesitation could be all the offense needs to get a man open down the field. Putting pressure on the defense to not allow the big play while also forcing them to stop the run.

The biggest advantage to having two running backs on the same side of the formation, however, is that it forces the defense to play in an ‘un-balanced’ formation.

Forcing the defense to ‘overload’ a side gives the offense an advantage when running the ball to the weak-side of the formation. However, if the defense stays in a balanced formation, now the offense has a numbers advantage to the strong side of the formation.

Go-Go Offense Running Concepts

Coach Marion has said he can run any running play from his staple FAR/NEAR formations. That is extremely valuable, for the sake of not tipping your plays to the defense pre-snap.

Out of FAR formation, Brennan Marion and William & Mary run a counter run play. As you can see, the running back closest to the quarterback has the responsibility to seal the edge defender on the backside of the play.

*To avoid any copyright issues, diagrams will be used for plays instead of actual footage. Although you can find the play at the 36:00 mark, here.*

Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual depiction of all the offenses assignments on a counter run play in a 21 personnel FAR formation.
Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual depiction of the play after the handoff.

Another example of Brennan Marion running out of these unique formations comes in the same William & Mary game. Again, the running back who isn’t getting the ball has an important task to seal the defensive end. Stopping him from making a huge play in the backfield on the backside.

*To avoid any copyright issues, diagrams will be used for plays instead of actual footage. Although you can find the play at the 1:47:25 mark, here.*

Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual depiction of all the offenses assignments on a power run play in a 21 personnel STACK Left formation.
Brennan Marion’s Go-Go Offense
Here is a visual depiction of the play after the handoff.

The creativity in Brennan Marion’s run blocking scheme with the running backs is actually nothing new. However, rarely do teams ask their primary running backs to block and seal the backside as if they were a fullback or tight end.

This slight nuance causes the defense to hesitate, giving the offensive line an advantage. With the defense hesitating, the offensive line gains an extra step, moving the line of scrimmage up.

The Longhorns Go-Go Package

Now that we understand what makes the Go-Go offense special, what does it mean for Steve Sarkisian and this Texas offense? How could a Longhorns-version of this Go-Go package look?

Having Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson on the field at the same time should be the top priority for Sarkisian. The running back position is incredibly deep for the Longhorns. With talents such as Keilan Robinson, Jonathon Brooks, and Jaydon Blue also vying for touches.

Getting as many of these playmakers on the field at the same time while keeping the defense guessing what they are going to do would be a huge advantage for this offense. Let’s take a look at a few possible formations the Longhorns could use with inspiration from the Go-Go offense.

Longhorns Go-Go Package
Visual depiction of 20 personnel in NEAR Formation

Having both running backs on the same side of the offense creates unbalance for the defense, as we mentioned earlier. This is beneficial in the run game but also helps in the passing game.
Having four of your playmakers on the same side of the formation creates an isolation on the other side. This forces the defense to either roll their coverage toward your biggest threat (in this case, #8 Xavier Worthy) or roll their coverage toward your four other playmakers.

If the defense chooses to roll towards Xavier Worthy, the quarterback can recognize that post-snap and throw a quick swing pass to one of the running backs, basically creating a toss-run play where the running back has three blockers against three or four defenders. A situation Steve Sarkisian and staff would feel very good about with Bijan or Roschon carrying the ball.

However, if the defense decides to roll the coverage towards the four playmakers they will be leaving their cornerback one-on-one with Xavier Worthy. That is a matchup Steve Sarkisian would love to have ten times out of ten.

Mix & Matching Different Playmakers

Longhorns Go-Go Package
Visual depiction of 21 personnel in STACK Right formation

Steve Sarkisian may also opt to give Isaiah Neyor (#18) the isolation in these type of formations. Neyor averaged 20 yards per reception at the University of Wyoming in 2021. Sarkisian may want to use his deep threat ability as a way to ‘open up’ the field for the running game. Forcing defenses to choose whether to roll coverages his way or not would exasperate defensive coaches.

Longhorns Go-Go Package
Visual depiction of 21 personnel in FAR formation

Having Keilan Robinson and Bijan on the field at the same time presents a significant problem for defenses. Both are exceptional pass-catchers and will create mismatches in the passing game. Keilan’s break-away speed was on display in 2021 and we could see more of it with more two running back sets.

Longhorns Go-Go Package
Visual depiction of 21 personnel in STACK Left formation

As you can tell, we have mixed in Roschon Johnson, Keilan Robinson, Jahleel Billingsley, Ja’Tavion Sanders, Isaiah Neyor, and Jordan Whittington into these formations. All provide different attributes that can be utilized at different times. Two notable players that were not included were Gunner Helm and Troy Omerie. They are two other players who will see playing time in 2022, perhaps significant playing time if they continue to develop.

Steve Sarkisian can mix and match these playmakers in a multitude of ways. As mentioned above, Bijan Robinson and Keilan Robinson are two exceptional pass catchers and would be a mismatch against every linebacker in coverage. Jordan Whittington is a former running back and could absolutely be moved around and into the backfield at times.

Steve Sarkisian’s Deviation To The Go-Go Offense

A slight variation from the ‘pure’ Go-Go offense to the potential Longhorns package would be the quarterback position. Brennan Marion used his quarterbacks in the run game often when he was the offensive coordinator for William & Mary.

Steve Sarkisian does not like to use his quarterbacks in the run game. Sarkisian would much rather create option plays using run/pass options. Instead of using the traditional speed-option or read-option plays that require the quarterback to be a threat as a runner.

This Longhorns Go-Go package will most likely be brought on slowly. However, it has significant advantages to it and presents defenses with problems they aren’t accustomed to solving. Getting the best five playmakers on the field at the same time should be the goal for Sarkisian and this offensive staff. Two running back sets allow for that to happen.

The biggest challenge for Steve Sarkisian and this coaching staff will be to persuade these players to buy-in. This is an offense that demands selflessness, as we’ve talked about earlier.

Asking star running backs like Bijan Robinson and Jaydon Blue to block a defensive end or linebacker at times will not be easy. Not that I doubt they will give it their best, but it’s unquestionably a change to how they have played football their entire lives. However, with the locker room and coaching staff that is now in place, the culture will promote selflessness and team success.

Closing

Brennan Marion is on the fast track to a Power-Five offensive coordinator position. The Longhorns will not be able to keep him for more than a season or two, especially if Sarkisian incorporates the Go-Go package effectively early on.

Sarkisian will have to be an open book and learn about Brennan Marion’s offense and his philosophies as much as he can before Marion out grows his role as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.

Overall, Brennan Marion is one of the brightest young minds in football and Texas is lucky to have him in the building. Not only is his scheme new and exciting, but the energy he brings as a coach and a recruiter is on full-display already on his Instagram: @brennan_coach.


Longhorn Nation should also be excited that @longhorns_atb has started a podcast! Find us on Apple podcasts and Spotify by typing in “Around The Horns” or follow this link. You can also find our episodes on YouTube! We go live every Monday 7pm EST, check out our latest one here.

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Author: Ryan McAloon

Founder & CEO of Texas-Talk.com

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