AMES — Iowa State strong safety Durrell Givens looked at cornerback Jansen Watson.
Watson glanced back.
The fact that both were seated on the bench for the Cyclones’ regular season-closing 31-24 loss to West Virginia brought both head-shaking angst and heightened resolve from the two productive, but injured back-end starters.
“We were just talking like, ‘Damn, man,’” said Givens, who like Watson, has a clean bill of health again. “‘We’ve got to get back and get ready for the bowl game; come back and end the season right.’”
Mission accomplished — so far — in preparation for the Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl rematch with Tulsa.
Givens, who injured his right ankle in the first half of the Kansas win, missed a game in a half.
Watson, who strained an MCL in the first quarter of the Texas loss, sat out 15 full quarters of play.
“Missing the games, it hurt pretty bad for me, personally, and the team,” said Watson, a junior who broke through with six pass breakups and six passes defended this season. “It was just a roll-up. I was in the wrong place. Somebody pushed (linebacker) Jeremiah (George) and it rolled up my knee. Being out, it sucked, but I stayed confident and humble to help the team.”
Givens, a.k.a. “Pig,” led all Football Bowl Subdivision players until late in the season with nine combined takeaways (six fumble recoveries, three interceptions).
He also forced four fumbles for a defense that created 25 turnovers in 12 games — tied for 29th-best nationally.
“It hurt, because you want to go but you know you can't go,” Givens said. “It hurt a lot. ... You don't want to hurt it more plus you don’t want to do a disservice to the team, where you couldn't make a play you normally could make."
Gage Shaeffer forced a fumble at Kansas and racked up a career-high 13 tackles against the Mountaineers in Givens’ absence.
Watson’s replacement, Cliff Stokes, was picked on at times, but improved steadily.
“Injuries happen,” Givens said. “Guys go out. Guys step up and make plays. It hurts to lose people, but when you have depth it softens the blow."
So did knowing a bowl game loomed once full health was recovered.
Givens, a senior, even missed the tedious, but vital work done before games.
“Even though it’s like a grind in practice, once you're not practicing, it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish I was out there grinding,’" Givens said.
Now he is.
Along with Watson.
All in — and at 100 percent.“I'm there,” Watson said. “With a knee it takes time, but I'm there. I’ve just got a little brace on, but I feel good."