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Michigan safety Josh Metellus said the team can only improve after loss to Wisconsin Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

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Madison, Wis. — Maybe this loss seems more defining because the first two games, both wins, felt uneven and inconsistent.

A double-overtime squeaker against Army two weeks ago was the first indication that the transition to a new offense is far from complete and that the defense has some deficiencies.

But then came the “gut check” as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called it. Michigan was dominated in every phase by Wisconsin in a 35-14 loss in the Big Ten opener on Saturday at Camp Randall. Sure, it’s a crossover game against a West Division opponent, and the East is what the Wolverines need to focus on, but that doesn’t make the loss less meaningful.

Still, the players appropriately remained positive. After all, the season is young.

“It’s early. It’s Week 3. Third game of the season,” safety Josh Metellus said. “We’ve got a lot more football left. As we all know, one game doesn’t define a season in college football. The only place we can go is up from here. We’ve got a lot of things to look forward to. I feel like we played great in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball, so you know we’ve got a lot to push us into next week.”

Metellus is as even-keeled as they come, straightforward and also consistently upbeat.

“Everybody keep their head up,” he said. “It’s a long season. We ain't got nothing to get down about. We played a good team. They played one of their best games in probably the last couple of years, and we didn’t play our best game. We’ve got a lot to look forward to. We’ve still got a great team. We’ve all got to trust in each other, we’ve all got each other’s back when somebody falls, so we’ve got to keep pushing.”

Michigan's veterans know that this type of loss can make or break a team.

More: Michigan players say team lacks 'identity,' will be fine in time

More: 'Good as advertised': Wisconsin's Taylor plows through UM's defense

“This game is a real gut check for us,” senior left tackle Jon Runyan said. “Moving forward, we’ve just got to keep our head down and keep working. We know things are going to get better. Everyone’s really determined and focused. Our season is not over. This is a Big Ten West team. We can keep winning out and take it game by game.

“Nobody is obviously pleased with the result. Guys are hungry to be better and everybody wants to be better. We’ve got a lot of guys that are banged up and we’re going to fight through it and we’re going to come out stronger, I promise that. When we came back in the locker room, everybody got together embraced and (locked) eyes. We can’t play like this all year or we’re going to get our butts kicked every week. We’ve just got to be better.”

Sophomore defensive end Aidan Hutchinson assured the team will bounce back and said the message to the team was simple — improve week to week.

“That’s all you can do,” he said. “Right now, we’re at the point in the season we had our first Big Ten game, we lose it, now we’ve got our backs against the wall. We’ve just got to fight to get out of this position we’re in, and we’ll do it. I’m confident.”

Why is he so confident?

“The guys on this team,” Hutchinson said. “You look at the defense, we have a lot of good guys. You guys weren’t in our huddle, you guys weren’t on the sideline with us, you guys don’t know what goes on in our defense, but we’re going to fight.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis

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