TAMPA, Fla. – After missing one entire season and a large chunk of a second due to injuries, Penn State defensive end Nick Tarburton stayed healthy in 2021, played every single game, and loved every minute of it.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Tarburton, a graduate of Pennridge High School, said Thursday after the Nittany Lions completed practice. “I’m just super thankful just to have the opportunity to play football. I didn’t have that my first two years basically, so just being fully healthy and being able to compete each and every day, it’s a blessing and I’m super thankful for it.”

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound redshirt junior, whose first career start came in this year’s season opener at Wisconsin, suffered back and hip injuries early in his career, playing just the first two games before being sidelined for the rest of the 2018 season and all of 2019. After seeing special teams duty for most of last season, he played defense late in the year.

With All-Big Ten defensive end Arnold Ebiketie having opted out this week, Tarburton likely will make his eighth start of the year in Saturday’s Outback Bowl matchup with No. 22 Arkansas.

“I think I’ve played pretty well,” Tarburton said of the season. “I think I did things well, but I think there’s a ton of improvement (to go). Obviously I’m super excited to play in this bowl game and make a big impact and then continue to take that into next year. So I’ve done well but I need to just continue to get better each and every day.”

Tarburton has 22 tackles this season, 11th on the team, and has two pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

The new No. 1 wideout?

With All-America wide receiver Jahan Dotson skipping the bowl game and declaring for the NFL draft, sophomore Parker Washington has stepped up as the primary target of quarterback Sean Clifford.

“The bowl prep that we had this fall, he made a lot of plays,” the fifth-year senior said Thursday. “He’s kind of filled that role of Jahan, where Jahan was making contested catches and one-handed grabs, and Parker does the same thing. If you really break it down, Parker’s got a lot of talent. So I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.”

Washington has caught 57 passes this season for 722 yards and four touchdowns, ranking second behind Dotson in all three categories, with highs of nine catches at Ohio State and 148 receiving yards against Villanova.

Clifford said he spoke to Washington during bowl preparations and told him, “It’s time for you to step up” with regard to leadership, and that he’s done a good job this week.

“It’s kind of been just a little precursor to next year,” said Clifford, who will return for a sixth season in 2022. “So I’m excited to see how he does it because I think he has a chance to really be a great leader for our team.”

Fashanu joins the offense

The Outback Bowl will feature a new member of the Lions’ offensive line – 6-foot-6, 313-pound redshirt freshman tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu, who had been tabbed for a starting berth earlier in the season by head coach James Franklin but suffered an injury.

Fashanu, who has played eight games in a reserve role this season, will start Saturday in place of Rasheed Walker. An All-Big Ten third-team honoree, Walker was seen on crutches at this week’s practices. The extent of his injury is not known.

“We’ve been preparing and planning,” Franklin said. “Olu was going to start during the year, now we’re in a position obviously that he’s going to do it on Saturday. We have a lot of faith and confidence in him. It’s going to be exciting to watch him go out and play. He’s had a really good week of practice.”