Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a player is improving on the field.
In the case of Nigel Warrior, it’s pretty easy to see that he is playing the best football of his career.
Warrior started the season out slow, but has brought the heat over the last six games. Before Tennessee’s bye week, Warrior averaged 3.5 total tackles per game. He had just six solo tackles (1.5 per game), with one interception and one pass defensed.
Since then, he’s had two 10-tackle games to go along with the following totals: 44 total tackles, 25 solo tackles, three interceptions and four passes defensed.
That’s a pretty remarkable improvement numbers-wise. When you look at his career numbers coming into 2019, it’s easy to see how the last six games have translated into the best run of his career.
Warrior averaged 5.82 total tackles (169) and 3.51 solo tackles (102) in 29 games from 2016-2018. He also added one interception, four passes defensed, one sack, and three forced fumbles over that span. When you add in the first four games of the season, his career averages are 5.54 total tackles and 3.27 solo tackles per game.
Remember the six-game totals from a couple of paragraphs ago? Well, those average out to 7.3 total tackles per game and 4.16 solo tackles per game. Not only has he been flying all over the field and taking people down, but he’s been making plays, too. The big plays have been there, too, evidenced by three interceptions and three passes defensed.
His improvement has helped the defense in a major way. Over the last six games, opponents have averaged just 196 passing yards per game. They’ve thrown for six touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. Five of the six games have seen opponents pass for one touchdown or fewer. Jake Fromm threw for two touchdowns, which is the most touchdowns a quarterback has thrown over the last six games.
Warrior’s play has helped the Vols move into the top-40 (34th) in the country in terms of defensive passing efficiency allowed (120.9) and are 28th in passing yards allowed (196.4). Tennessee is also tied for the second-most interceptions in the country (14).
Doug Matthews, a former Tennessee coach, made an appearance 104.5 The Zone’s Midday 180 this past Wednesday and stated that several people inside the program claim Warrior - and I’m paraphrasing, but the context is correct - is a completely different player now than what they’ve seen over his career.
He’s improved his tackling and is out there diagnosing plays. Many of the plays he’s made over the last six games have been major momentum shifters or have come in key moments of the game.
His four interceptions are tied for the most in the SEC and are good enough for the solo lead on the team. He is second the team with 58 total tackles, which rank as the 12th-most in the conference.
Put it this way: Warrior has just as many or more interceptions than Oklahoma, Kansas, West Virginia or 19 other schools on the year.
And most importantly, the Vols are 4-2 over their last six games.
It’s been so much fun watching this kid develop into the player we thought he would become. Hopefully, he can keep it going and get even better over these last three games.
So I gave you all the numbers, but what about an actual breakdown showing how and why Warrior has improved his game?
Well, fortunately for all of you, our own Power T Tape will be providing just that in the upcoming days, so be sure to be on the lookout!