It was the exact opposite of his decision a week earlier, when an aggressive play call on 4th and goal lifted the Wolfpack over Florida State. O'Brien's aggressiveness last week helped give his Pack an upset victory, his passiveness on Saturday helped give his team a loss.
The ensuing punt went four yards. Clemson didn't pick up the first down but they pinned the Pack back at its own 15-yard line. The game was over soon after, as Wilson couldn't convert an awkward pass across the field on 4th down to TJ Graham and the Pack fell 14-13 on the road against Clemson.
"I punted on fourth and one because I didn't think we'd punt the ball four yards," O'Brien said. "You punt the ball inside the 10-yard line like you are supposed to, you use your timeouts, which we did, you get the ball back with over three minutes. That's plenty of time to go win a football game."
It was a game full of mistakes and missed opportunities for both teams. Clemson turned the ball over four times, twice inside the redzone, and missed two field goals. The Pack got a total of three points out of the two red zone turnovers, going just 3-of-5 inside the 20 on the day. The Pack offense had two turnovers of its own, including one inside the Clemson 10-yard line that erased a scoring opportunity.
Russell Wilson finished the game just 22-of-36 for 212 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Pack running game was almost non-existent - rushing 29 times for just 69 yards with Wilson leading the way with 29 yards. Mustafa Greene and James Washington averaged just 1.7 yards a carry on 20 carries.
"It's a tough day, we lost our destiny but we're still in it," O'Brien said. "Somebody has to help us now so we have to get ready to go play our last home game and still have to win out. You win out and see what happens. Somebody helps out we'll be on our way to Charlotte."
The Pack defense got the job done on Clemson's opening possession, forcing a 3-and-out that gave the offense good field position. Wilson took advantage, marching his team down the field and capping off the drive with a 3-yard pass to Greene. It was the first touchdown reception of the year for the freshman running back, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Saturday.
After the first score made it a 7-0 in favor of the Pack, the game became a comedy of errors for both teams offensively. The Tigers missed a field goal on its next possession, marching 15 plays but coming up with no points. On its next possession, the Tigers threw a pick inside Wolfpack territory. Terrell Manning picked off the pass and ran it in for a touchdown, only for the play to be called back because of a block in the back away from the play.
The Pack blew another scoring opportunity after the Clemson turnover, when a 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Clemson. On the next play by the Tigers offense, the Pack forced a fumble and recovered to give their offense the ball inside the Tiger 10-yard line.
But even inside the 10, the Pack couldn't put points on the board. On 3rd and goal, Wilson threw a pass into triple coverage in the end zone that was promptly picked off by DeAndre McDaniel. Clemson would get one more chance to break the offensive drought before the half, but back-to-back sacks in the final minute pushed the Tigers out of field goal range and left the Pack with a 7-0 lead.
The second half didn't start any better for the Tigers. Following a Pack punt, Kyle Parker put another ball on the ground that was jumped on by the Pack. The offense still couldn't do much despite getting the ball in the red zone, but at least managed to make a 28-yard field goal to stretch its lead to 10-0 in the third quarter.
But the Pack couldn't sustain the positive momentum on its next offensive possession. After picking up a 1st down to get out from its inside its own 20-yard line, Greene fumbled on his first carry of the second half and Clemson recovered. A few plays later, Parker found DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone to cut the lead to 10-7 with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Pack picked up another field goal in response to the Clemson touchdown, pushing the lead to 13-7 early in the fourth quarter. The Pack picked up a big 3rd down conversion on the drive when Wilson hit Owen Spencer for a 31-yard completion to move the chains. The Pack stalled out in the red zone again though, getting inside the 10 before settling for a 27-yard field goal.
Clemson looked poised to answer after taking back the ensuing kick-off all the way down to the Pack 21-yard line. Only the hustle of Gary Grant saved the Pack from its third return touchdown of the year. But Clemson against squandered a scoring chance, missing a 32-yard chance that would have cut the lead to three.
The Tigers would finally cash in on a scoring opportunity after another quick Wolfpack possession. Clemson got the ball inside the Pack's 40-yard line following a short punt and marched into the endzone. The Tigers officially took the lead on a 4-yard rush by Jamie Harper, putting the Tigers up for good at 14-13.
The Pack would get the ball twice more in the game, the first driving ending when O'Brien elected not to go for it on 4th and short with about 3:30 left in the game. After a defensive stopped gave the ball back to the Pack three minutes later, Wilson and the Pack would pick up only one first down before giving the ball back on downs. The final play of the game, a long pass across the field that Graham had but lost it on the way down, ended the game for the Pack and might have ended their ACC title hopes in the process.