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Updated at 6:42 p.m. on Friday, April 20, 2018.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has had two scrimmages in Neyland Stadium under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt this spring.

The first came with several hundred high school football coaches from around the region watching. The second came in front of university faculty and staff invited to watch.

The third and final spring scrimmage at 2 p.m. Saturday will come with tens of thousands of fans in the stands for the Volunteers' Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium.

"I expect our fan base to be there," Pruitt said. "We need it as a football team; we need it as a football program."

Athletic director Phillip Fulmer said Thursday he has no idea what type of crowd to expect for the spring game but said he is hoping for "a huge" turnout. The event is free to attend.

The temperature is expected to be around 70 degrees at the game's start, and the sun is projected to be shining. Tennessee estimated that 35,000 fans attended last year's spring game, which was cut short due to thunderstorms.

"Obviously, it helps in recruiting. When you look and you see 102,000 people for a spring game, that sends a message to recruits about how important spring football is at Tennessee, and how much football is important in general," Pruitt said. "It also gives our guys a chance to compete and an electric atmosphere, which is important for us to give a good evaluation of them."

The spring game offers the coaches a chance to sell recruits on a passionate fan base. Tennessee estimated crowds of between 60,000 and 70,000 for the first four spring games under Butch Jones before last year's rainy affair, which was his fifth and final spring game as the Vols' coach.

Tennessee's record spring-game crowd is 73,801, set in 1986.

Pruitt and his staff must walk a fine line between tapping into the fans' passion to generate good attendance for the spring game and prematurely inflating expectations for the program. The Vols are coming off the first eight-loss season in program history and face a formidable 2018 schedule that begins against West Virginia in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 1.

In the meantime, an entirely new coaching staff is teaching a roster full of inherited players new schemes and techniques. That's another reason why Saturday's game matters to Pruitt.

He's seen his new players perform in front of each other and in front of small crowds. He has not seen them play in front of a crowd of fans eager for a first glimpse at a new era.

"We've had two chances for scrimmages to get a look at them," Pruitt said. "There may be some guys that have gotten better each time, and hey, maybe they won't if there's that many people in the stands. I think it gives them an opportunity to prepare for the environment they'll see in the fall."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.

 

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