AUBURN, ALA., SEPT. 5 -- The new football era for the University of Texas looked much like the one it aimed to forget. Fifth-ranked Auburn also looked like it usually does -- a contender for the national championship. The Tigers thoroughly dominated the once prestigious Longhorns, 31-3, today in opening their season in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

A crowd of 80,000, the largest in Alabama football history, watched first with disbelief and then in pandemonium as Auburn captured four first-half turnovers, including an interception and fumble on Texas' first two series of the game, for a 14-3 halftime lead.

Auburn's defense, which returns nine starters from a unit ranked No. 2 in the nation last year, manhandled the Longhorns utterly and held them, humiliatingly, to only Wayne Clements' 35-yard field goal.

"I had no idea we would score 31 points and hold them to three," Auburn Coach Pat Dye said.

Few would have, for it was the worst opening defeat in Texas history, dating to 1893. It was an eye-opening debut for Texas under its new head coach, David McWilliams, last year's Southwest Conference coach of the year at Texas Tech. Clearly, there will be no miracles for a team that is still aching from last year's 5-6 record, its first losing season in 30 years. This loss marked the first time since 1966-67 that Texas has lost back-to back-openers.

But it would not seem to be particularly anyone's fault; the Longhorns returned just seven seniors and are simply inexperienced.

"We've got to face facts," a worn McWilliams said. "Not to hurt anyone's feelings, but we didn't move the ball on offense. That's why we got beat."

Auburn's preeminent defense made things easy on an Auburn offense that had lacked confidence without a star running back, for a change, and with three new starters on an inexperienced offensive line. But the Tigers only had to go 29 and 38 yards for a 14-0 lead.

The Tigers got a one-yard scoring run from fullback Reggie Ware to capitalize with 3:56 elapsed on cornerback Alvin Briggs' interception off Bret Stafford at the Texas 30. Then Texas quarterback Stafford fumbled on his 38, and Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger struck fullback Vincent Harris with a 22-yard screen pass that went all the way with only 6:36 gone off the clock.

"The defense took control and made some things happen for us," Burger said. "That's exactly what we needed. All of sudden the guys were saying, 'Hey, we're just playing football.' "

Burger's performance was about the only thing the Tigers weren't doubtful of coming in. The fifth-year senior was impeccable, completing 16 of 22 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Alex Wright added a 29-yard scoring run off a reverse with 8:23 to go in the third quarter, and Win Lyle made a 35-yard field goal with 10:59 left in the fourth. To complete the embarrassment, Burger completed a 49-yard scoring pass to Wright with 3:10 to go.

The only Longhorn to have a good day was speed back Eric Metcalf, who was All-Metropolitan at O'Connell High School in Arlington, Va., and now is a veteran touted as all-Southwest Conference material. Metcalf carried 16 times for 79 yards, caught a pass for four yards and returned four punts for 64 yards.

"We were going for the shutout," said defensive tackle Nate Hill, who had two sacks of Stafford. "We almost got it. It was in our minds."

No one had a harder day than Stafford, chased from one end of the field to the other. It was a credit to his agility that he was sacked only three times. He did well to complete 16 of 33 passes for 116 yards, and managed a minus two yards rushing. The owner of 14 school passing and offense records, he never had time to get the ball off, and his turnovers were not entirely his fault.

"It was some lack of execution on our part, and they put the pressure on us," Stafford said. "I made some stupid mistakes early. A lot of times it was hard to get the ball off."

McWilliams: "We weren't able to block them. We pretty much did everything we could do."

It was not an auspicious beginning for McWilliams, hired to bring some honor back to a divided and humiliated Texas program. The anticipation with which Texas awaited McWilliams' debut was shown by the fact that legendary coach Darrell Royal made the trip to Auburn, the first time he had traveled with the team since he departed as athletic director in 1979. It was commonly known there was no love lost between Royal and Fred Akers, who was not the former coach's choice as his replacement. But McWilliams, a 16-year assistant under Royal and Akers before making a big impression in his one season as head coach of Texas Tech, was solidly endorsed by the 64-year-old legend.

Royal described his presence: "It's nice to give a damn again."

But obviously the rehabilitation will take time. Texas' inability to score was highlighted in the first half when the Longhorns had possessions on the Auburn 39, 34, 48 and 41, but managed just Clements' three points with 1:30 left in the first quarter.

Then the Longhorns had a bona fide chance to climb back in it on a fumble recovery at the Tigers' 34 on the ensuing kickoff. The Longhorns wheedled their way to the 10, where they faced third and one. There they opted for a play-action pass that was broken up.

Rather than taking a field goal, Texas gave Metcalf the ball. He tried to leap the line of scrimmage, and the ball popped out, to be recovered on the 6 by Briggs.

The Longhorns were good and deflated.

Texas 3 0 0 0 3 Auburn 14 0 7 10 31

A -- Ware 1 run (Lyle kick)

A -- Harris 22 pass from Burger (Lyle kick)

T -- FG Clements 35

A -- Wright 29 run (Lyle kick)

A -- FG Lyle 35

A -- Wright 49 pass from Burger (Lyle kick)

A -- 80,000

Texas Auburn First downs 15 15 Rushes-yards 40-133 32-112 Passing yards 116 269 Return yards 64 45 Passing 16-34-2 16-22-0 Punts-average 8-44 7-40 Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-2 Penalties-yards 5-49 4-30 Tim

RUSHING -- Texas: Metcalf 16-79, Hunter 5-20, Taylor 8-18, Jones 1-10, Norris 4-4, Samuels 1-4, Stafford 13

PASSING -- Texas: Stafford 16-33-2, 116 yards. Auburn: Burger 16-22-0, 269.

RECEIVING -- Texas: Jones 7-41, Johnson 4-40, Lilljedahl 2-10, Norris 1-15, Clark 1-6, Metcalf 1-4. Auburn: