Just because Anthony Morelli talks about heading into his senior season at Penn State with renewed confidence and comfort, it does not mean he has forgotten past slights.

Earlier this week, when the quarterback spoke to reporters on a conference call, he was asked about his improvement in reading defenses. Morelli sounded miffed and replied: "You've got to be kidding me. Next question, please."

Clearly, Morelli hasn't erased the bad memories. He has been a target for controversy and criticism since his arrival as a highly touted, rocket-armed recruit from Pittsburgh's Penn Hills High School.

Morelli has been called stupid when it comes to making reads and disappointing when it comes to winning, and has said he received death threats at Penn State. He aired his frustration over such labels before last season's Outback Bowl, then went out and had one of his best games.

He got much of the blame for Penn State's losses in the 9-4 season despite solid numbers, but seemed to prove himself by going 14 of 25 for 197 yards in the 20-10 bowl triumph over Tennessee.

The word Morelli has used the most to describe himself since the Jan. 1 win is confident.

"I feel good about myself," said Morelli, who is 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds. "I have a lot of confidence. I put a lot of stuff behind me. I feel a lot better now."

He will conclude spring drills with Penn State in today's Blue-White Game.

Morelli knows Penn State fans have high expectations, and with them often comes criticism. Despite bristling at the question about his reads, he said he fed off the negativity.

"They say I can't do this or that," he said. "I want to go out and prove them wrong. Every day I wake up, it's definitely a motivation."

Morelli has another motivation as well.

When the team breaks a huddle, players can be heard saying either "national championship" or "Big Ten championship."

"We say it because we believe in it," Morelli said. "When you say it, you go out and practice hard."

Last season, Morelli completed nearly 54 percent of his passes, with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Waiting in the wings at the quarterback position is Pat Devlin, a former standout at Downingtown East High School.

Penn State's offense has lost an important component in running back Tony Hunt, who rushed for 3,320 career yards and will be replaced by an inexperienced fifth-year tailback, Austin Scott.

But Morelli will be helped by the return of all the starting receivers. For the first time in school history, three receivers - Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams - caught 40 or more passes last season.

Morelli said he was focusing on fine-tuning the offense.

"I have a year of experience under my belt," he said. "It's little things that are going to help me and the team win some more games this year."

Morelli entered Penn State as one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation after throwing for 5,255 career yards and 57 touchdowns.

In his first year as a starter last season, he was criticized often after losses, but he said he was focused on improving.

"Every day I go to practice and try to learn something and get better every day," he said.

The game Morelli and his teammates keep pointing to as their confidence-builder is the Outback Bowl.

Morelli showed so much poise that head coach Joe Paterno said the quarterback grew up that day.

"I have a lot of confidence now," Morelli said. "It helped the team a lot. . . . Everyone can't wait till the next big game to prove ourselves again."

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan

at 215-854-5503 or sryan@phillynews.com.