STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Stan Hixon stood near the sideline with shorts, short sleeves and a wide smile during a warm afternoon practice.
"Nice weather," said a visitor. "Wish it were Saturday."
"Me too," a grinning Hixon said, before jogging off to coach the receivers.
Hixon later had reason to smile -- his wideouts caught everything in preparation of Saturday's Northwestern game. The assistant head coach stood 12 yards in front of the quarterbacks and didn't raise his voice once during the open session of Wednesday's practice.
He glanced down a few times at a folded piece of paper, directed his players in a soft tone and sometimes pulled a player aside. He'd pump his arms to mimic route-running and send the player off with a pat.
Matt McGloin completed seven straight passes to Hixon's wideouts, mostly on intermediate routes, before a large digital clock showed all zeroes to indicate the drill was over. No wideout dropped a pass, and the only incompletion -- from Steven Bench -- came on a miscommunication with Matt Zanellato.
Behind the scenes: The media wasn't able to see Wednesday who on the scout team took the place of Northwestern do-it-all Kain Colter -- but defensive end Deion Barnes let the secret out earlier in the day.
"I think he's one of the toughest we've played," Barnes said.
Unhappy: Hixon may have seemed pretty happy with his receivers, but Bill O'Brien didn't seem satisfied overall with the team.
The usually reserved coach -- at least in front of the media -- yelled at his players a few times, dropped an expletive and was clearly unhappy with the performance. During goal-line drills, he had the losing team drop and do 10 push-ups. He was more animated than usual Wednesday, especially after Derek Day fumbled near the end zone.
Barnes will still likely start over Massaro, but the injured end remains the better run-stuffer and might still play a critical role Saturday. Obeng-Agyapong and Smith both started at their respective positions Wednesday.
Backup offensive line: With Smith's return, the first team looks the same. But here's how the second string now appears:
Stickin' with Ficken: Sam Ficken again impressed in practice. He nailed 3-of-3 field goals around 35 yards, and one kick sailed over the net and hit neighboring Holuba Hall.
But his issues haven't centered around leg strength; they have more to do with consistency in game situations. He is just 2-of-8 this season and has missed two extra points.
"He just has to learn how to relax out there," McGloin said earlier Wednesday.