MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Stewart made a preseason pledge.
"We're going to ride No. 7 this year, you betcha, like he's never been counted on before," the West Virginia football coach said in July. "We're going to put a lot on that young man's shoulders."
"No. 7" is senior running back Noel Devine.
Through three games, Stewart has been a man of his word.
In wins against Coastal Carolina, Marshall and Maryland, Devine has 73 carries for 354 yards -- he got the ball handed to him 23 times each in the first two games, then 27 times in the Mountaineers' victory Saturday against the Terrapins.
He also has caught 13 passes for 89 yards -- 10 receptions coming at Marshall -- and has also returned a kickoff for 15 yards.
Devine has workhorse numbers, indeed, 87 touches and for 458 yards. He has scored two touchdowns.
The tiny-yet-powerful-back -- he's listed at 5 feet 8, 180 pounds but can bench press 445 pounds -- had Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen commit to getting him the ball more this season.
A comparison to statistics from last season shows a pronounced spike in Devine's work.
In the first three games of last season -- wins against Liberty and East Carolina and a loss at Auburn -- Devine never carried the ball more than 19 times in a game. It wasn't until a Week 4 matchup with Colorado that he got it 22 times and for all of last season, including the Gator Bowl, he had 241 carries in 13 games.
Right now, through three games this season, he is averaging 24.3 carries.
That projects to just over 316 carries in a 13-game season.
"I feel very good about our identity as an offense," Mullen said. "I feel good about where we've been, and where we are going."
No. 22 West Virginia is going to a matchup with 15th-ranked LSU (3-0), in a game where Devine will be counted on just as much as ever.
Mullen noted after the Maryland win Saturday that "everybody talked about how we didn't get the ball to Noel enough last year."
Right now, no one can use that line of questioning. And Devine is a happy back.
"Each and every week, you play a game and you get better each and every week," Devine said.
"We got that much better this week [against Maryland] and we can only continue to get better. We just have to prepare the best we can for LSU."
Perhaps those plans will include delivery of a large amount of Devine.
Correction/Clarification: (Published September 21, 2010) A Monday story incorrectly listed West Virginia's ranking as No. 24 in The Associated Press football poll. The Mountaineers are ranked No. 22.
Colin Dunlap: email@example.com or 412-263-1459.