Through the chaos of a coaching change this week, it's been easy to lose sight of the fact that the Colorado Buffaloes actually have a football game to play this week.

Not just any game, either.

On Saturday, the Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) will visit California (6-4, 3-4), looking to snap a six-game losing streak and earn bowl eligibility.

"Hopefully we can help these guys win a game and maybe it extends the season," said interim head coach Kurt Roper, who took over for the fired Mike MacIntyre on Sunday.

Doing that won't be easy, because Cal has been one of the Pac-12's best teams in the last month, especially on defense.

The Bears are 3-1 in their last four games, the only loss a 19-13 decision on the road against a Washington State team that's still got a slim shot at the College Football Playoff. Wazzu needed a touchdown with 32 seconds to play to get past the Bears.

After an 0-3 start to Pac-12 play, the Bears are gaining confidence.

Cal has held four consecutive opponents under 20 points, allowing an average of 12.5 points in that stretch. In just his second season as the head coach of the Bears, Justin Wilcox has teamed with defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to change the identity of the program. Once known for its air raid offense, the Bears are becoming a defensive juggernaut.


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"(Wilcox and DeRuyter) do a really good job of putting in a system," Roper said. "When you watch them play defense, there's 11 guys tied together, knowing exactly what the other guy is supposed to be doing. They do it through a lot of repetition. They know where they're supposed to fit on any call, any pressure, any coverage. And you can't get past their talent. They've got a group that's played a lot of football.

"They've got a really good system and they understand that system."

CU, which has scored 14 points in the last two games combined, has to somehow figure out how to solve that defense.

"We have to go out there and give our playmakers a chance with the football," Roper said. "We have to do a better job of managing the down and distances and trying to have some third and shorts and not as many third and longs as we've had. Hopefully we execute at a high level, hopefully we put these guys in position to make plays and score more points."

The defense will have a challenge in its own right.

Cal has the lowest scoring offense in the Pac-12 (22.7 points per game), and isn't explosive. But, the Bears have players on offense that can be dangerous, including the quarterback duo of Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain. While Garbers has been the primary quarterback of late, the Bears often use both.

"Both of them are good at what they do," CU defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Sometimes you face a team that has a two-quarterback system and one can run really good and one can pass really good, but they're both pretty good both."

Eliot is perhaps even more impressed with senior running back Patrick Laird. Perhaps the most under-appreciated back in the Pac-12, Laird has rushed for 771 yards and leads the Bears with 43 catches.

"He's phenomenal," Eliot said. "I think he is a great player. He runs hard, he makes great catches. They're going to get the ball to him in a lot of ways."

While Cal hasn't been one of the elite teams in the conference this season, the Bears have been good enough to extend Colorado's miserable losing streak.

During a week that's been emotional for the Buffs, though, they're hoping that focusing on football — and not the outside noise — can help them surprise some people.

"We're trying to find ways to get it done," offensive lineman Aaron Haigler said. "At the end of the day, it's on this group to really push forward and be resilient enough to forget about what's happened and try to get it done."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33